Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This week’s Site of the Week installment wraps up our coverage of New Mexico’s biggest market. Albuquerque is big enough, with enough to see, that it’s taken us no fewer than five articles to cover: in addition to last week’s look at several FM sites and the studios of unique public broadcaster KANW, we’ve looked in earlier installments at the Sandia Crest TV/FM tower farm, the TV studios that serve those towers, and the north Albuquerque tower site of the city’s biggest and oldest AM outlet, KKOB (770).
In our final peek at the Duke City, we kick things off with the other end of the KKOB airchain – the studios of AM 770 and its then-Citadel (now Cumulus) sister stations, in the “Radio Center” inside a high-rise building at 500 Fourth Street NW in the heart of downtown Albuquerque. KKOB and KKOB-FM (93.3) have been here since 1986, when the former KOB/KOB-FM changed hands from Hubbard to Price Communications, changed calls and moved from the longtime KOB TV/radio studio on Broadcast Plaza up here to the 10-story Bank of America building, which is as close as you get to “skyscraper” in low-rise Albuquerque.
Over the years, Price sold to Citadel. Citadel’s presence here expanded to include two more AMs and, at one point, four more FMs before the FCC and DOJ stepped in to force one of those FMs, KBZU 96.3, to be put into trust. (When we visited in 2011, KBZU had disappeared from the signage outside, but its “Mountain” classic rock satellite format still passed through a studio up here under the aegis of Citadel’s “Last Bastion” trust; subsequently, Cumulus was able to re-integrate it as an eighth fully-owned station in the cluster.)
The stations here are divided into two big pods: along one hallway, we find KKOB and its AM sisters, sports-talk KNML (610) and secondary talker KTBL (1050 Los Ranchos de Albuquerque), while the four FMs line up along another hallway around the corner.
We pass through KKOB’s newsroom on the way to the cluster of studios for KKOB and KNML; the sports station is off to the left in what was presumably once a KKOB production room, while the KKOB talk studio and a news booth are straight ahead and the KKOB master control room is off to the right.
This is still a classic analog facility, complete with those built-like-a-tank PR&E consoles in the studios and that nifty woodwork along the racks that lead down the hallway to the FM stations. Top-40 “KOB-FM” is on the left at the end of the hall, with a nifty view of the rest of the Albuquerque skyline out the window to the south; across the hall, the automated KBZU studio is across the hall, with AC “Magic” KMGA (99.5) and country KRST (92.3) lined up next door. (The fifth FM here, “Ed FM” KDRF 103.3, is completely automated and doesn’t even have a live air studio.)
That’s Juan Velasco in the KRST studio, and he’s a midday institution on the country station, where he’s been heard for more than two decades. (KKOB-FM was voicetracked during our midday visit.)
From the rooftop above the “Radio Center,” it’s an easy microwave hop north to the KKOB 770 transmitter, and an even easier hop southward to the three-tower array of KNML (610). Located off Second Street SW, one of the main drags going south from downtown, this three-tower array is one of the most widely-spaced arrays we’ve ever seen, making it a bit of a challenge to get a view of all three in one frame from close-up amidst the junkyards of Second Street. The 610 facility traces its heritage back to 1928 and KGGM radio, a former mobile station that settled down in Albuquerque to become the city’s first radio station. (KOB had been around for six years at that point, but it was still way down south in Las Cruces.)
KGGM, of course, later spawned KGGM-TV (Channel 13), today’s KRQE, and the AM station had a variety of identities over the years after being sold separately from the TV before eventually joining the Citadel family in the late 1990s and picking up the “Sports Animal” format that had wandered around the dial before Citadel swapped away several of its other AMs on 1450 and 920.
There are some other AM sites to see as long as we’re south of downtown, too: religious KXKS (1190) has a lone tower on Arno Street, just east of Broadway and about two miles northeast of the 610 site, and from here, 1190 uses 10 kW by day and 22 watts at night. In more recent years, a second AM has diplexed here: this is now the home of Don Davis’ station on 1600, which was doing oldies as KRKE when we visited in 2011 and is now doing talk as KIVA. It’s also a 10 kW daytimer, with minimal power after dark – and at one time it had a CP to go all the way to 50 kW daytime from this site.
(Untangling a bit of history here: the station now on 1600 used to be on 1580 for many years, operating from the site up north that we’ll show you shortly. Davis did a double move to open up some room for more power on the dial, shifting 1580 to 1600 and moving another longtime Albuquerque station from 1520 to 1550. The 1520 facility used to be just west of the Rio Grande a few miles north of here.)
Also south of town, we find religious KDAZ (730), with a two-tower array on Coors Boulevard, about three miles southwest of the 610 site. KDAZ runs 1000 watts by day from here, with 78 watts after dark.
The southernmost site we see in Albuquerque is Citadel’s KTBL (1050 Los Ranchos de Albuquerque), with three towers out in a rural area west of Coors Boulevard, up on a little mesa with a distant view looking north through the haze at downtown. In addition to KTBL’s kilowatt here, this site is now also home to a diplex: KOAZ (1510 Isleta) moved on to this site not long after our visit, running 5 kW by day and 25 watts at night and serving as a nominal primary for the real home of “Smooth Jazz 103.7” on an FM translator.
We come around the west side of downtown as we head north, and that’s where we find Clear Channel’s KABQ (1350), which was then running progressive talk from a two-tower array off Mountain Road, tucked between I-40 to the north, Central Avenue (old Route 66) to the south and the Rio Grande just to the west. I believe the 1550 signal, now KRKE, operated from here for a time after being moved up the dial from 1520.
And we finish off with the remaining AMs (in addition to big gun KKOB) to be found north of downtown. What’s now Catholic KSVA (920) spent many years as KQEO, and was at one time a top-40 powerhouse in the market. It currently shares a tower with Spanish-language KRZY (1450) in a business park off Montano Road, just west of I-25 a few miles north of downtown.
Continuing north, we find ourselves on Los Ranchos Road about five miles north of downtown, and that’s the home of AGM’s religious KKIM (1000) and Don Davis’ 1550 (then doing talk as KIVA, now oldies as KRKE), both running 10 kW by day and minimal night power (38 watts for 1000, 27 watts for 1550) from a single tower. This is the site that the old 1580 used as well, and this was 1600 for a bit before Davis swapped transmitter sites and moved 1550 up here and 1600 down to the KXKS site south of downtown.
And that brings us to the last tangle of AM sites we’ll look at before hitting I-25 and making our way northbound to Santa Fe.
We’re up at the northernmost end of the Albuquerque metro here, off Edith Boulevard less than a mile east of KKOB’s two big towers and less than a mile west of I-25, and there should be five towers here, based on the FCC’s database.
Three AM stations are licensed to two arrays here: the southernmost three towers (at right in the photo above) are the licensed site of Spanish religious KKNS (1310 Corrales), and at one time the adobe building in front was the KKNS studio, too, I think. KKNS lost its lease on this site not long after we visited, and has been operating under STA from a single tower behind a church on 56th Street – and on an FM translator at 95.9 that reaches most of the valley, too.
The painted tower to the north (at the left of the photo) is the licensed site of KALY (1240 Los Ranchos de Albuquerque), which had been the city’s Radio Disney affiliate and then spent several years as the flagship of “Jenni Radio,” another service aimed at kids and produced by a teenager and her father from studios here and in Los Angeles. (More recently, 1240 has been sold to Grants-based KD Radio, as seen in an earlier installment of this trip; it’s now KDSK(AM) and is relaying the “Sound Souvenirs” oldies of KDSK-FM in Grants, with a CP to move from the north tower to one of the former KKNS towers to the south.)
The mystery here is the third station: KDEF (1150) is licensed to that north tower as well, with 5000 watts non-directional by day and 500 watts at night from two towers – but there’s no second tower to that north array that we can see, nor is there any STA evident in KDEF’s FCC records, so we’ll mark that down as a puzzler.
There’s one final picture to show you that didn’t really fit anywhere else: while we didn’t get a tour of Clear Channel’s Albuquerque studios, they’re in an office park along the I-25 corridor north of downtown. In addition to KABQ(AM), there are actually six FMs in this cluster, which is possible because one of them is on the books as a Santa Fe-market station: there’s rock KZRR (94.1), AC KLQT (95.1 Corrales, now top-40 “Channel 95.1”), modern AC KPEK (“Peak 100.3”), modern rock “Edge” KTGE (104.1 Santa Fe), classic country KABQ-FM (104.7 Bosque Farms) and country KBQI (107.9), all operating from here.
And that’s all we have to show you from Albuquerque! Join us again next week as we show you what’s to be seen up north in Santa Fe, Los Alamos and beyond…
Thanks to Citadel’s Bill Harris for the tour!
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Next week: Santa Fe and northern New Mexico, 2011