Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
After a fun couple of days in New Mexico’s largest market, Albuquerque, our second Big Trip of 2011 turned north on a Friday afternoon to begin a big loop into northern New Mexico and then across the southwestern corner of Colorado – and it all started less than an hour north of Albuquerque in New Mexico’s historic capital city, Santa Fe.
When it comes to broadcasting, Santa Fe lives somewhat in the shadow of the bigger market to its south. As soon as TV arrived on the Sandia Crest in the early 1950s, any chance of Santa Fe becoming its own separate TV market evaporated, since the Albuquerque TVs that transmit from Sandia are easily viewed here in Santa Fe. A handful of attempts at local Santa Fe TV quickly turned into Albuquerque rimshots, such as Fox affiliate KASA (Channel 2), which is still licensed to Santa Fe but transmits from Sandia.
On FM, the Sandia signals are loud and clear here in Santa Fe, of course, but Santa Fe offers its own radio lineup, too. Most of its FMs come from a site called Peralta Ridge, an even 10,000 feet above sea level, 25 miles west of Santa Fe and about 40 miles north of Albuquerque. Seven FMs live up here, and most target Albuquerque as much as Santa Fe: there’s American General Media’s classical KHFM (95.5 Santa Fe), oldies KABG (98.5 Los Alamos), and the Los Alamos-licensed 106.7 that was top-40 KDLW when we visited and is now rhythmic KAGM. Clear Channel’s modern rock KTEG (104.1 Santa Fe) is on Peralta, too, and so are Univision’s top-40 “Kiss” KKSS (97.3 Santa Fe) and Spanish-language KJFA (105.1 Santa Fe) and Entravision’s Spanish-language KRZY-FM (105.9 Santa Fe).
Had we made it up to Peralta, which we didn’t, we’d have seen some TV as well: religious KCHF (Channel 11/RF 10) is up there, and it’s where channel 2’s analog was before the station moved its digital broadcast to Sandia.
What we did get to see in Santa Fe, in addition to the low-rise modern state capitol building just south of the historic downtown, were the city’s AM signals. There are three and a half AMs local to Santa Fe, but just two tower sites, and here’s how they play out:
Aside from the “half-a-station,” which we’ll get to in a moment, the newest of the AMs here is bilingual KSWV (810), which signed on in 1966 as daytimer KAFE and today runs 5000 watts by day and just 10 little watts at night from a tower up on a low hill on the west side of town. KSWV (“Que Suave”) has its studios on the west side, too, on Taos Road just of Cerrillos Road, the main drag that comes into Santa Fe from the southwest. Cerrillos Road is where Santa Fe radio began back in 1935 when KRQA (1310) signed on with 100 watts. After a brief move to 1340 and a call change to KVSF, the station ended up on 1260 after World War II, where it was joined by a new competitor in 1947, KTRC on 1400.
KTRC and KVSF eventually ended up as sister stations under Hutton Broadcasting, and a few years ago the calls and formats were swapped, so that now it’s KTRC on 1260, doing progressive talk, while KVSF programs ESPN sports on 1400. The two AMs share a non-directional tower on Alameda Street along the Santa Fe River west of downtown, and they share the Hutton studios in an office park off Cerrillos Road with several rimshot FMs (KBAC 98.1 Las Vegas, KVSF-FM 101.5 Pecos and KLBU 102.9 Pecos).
That tower off Alameda is also where we find that mystery “half-a-station.” In addition to KVSF and KTRC, this tower lights up at sunset with a third AM signal, an on-channel booster for Albuquerque’s KKOB (770). This 230-watt signal was first licensed on an experimental basis back in 1987 to help fill in the directional notch in KKOB’s main signal that protects New York’s WABC – but also cuts out much of the signal to the northeast, up I-25 toward Santa Fe. At least based on our limited listening around Santa Fe, the booster does its job just fine; at sunset that Friday, we heard the main KKOB signal drop down at sunset when the directional array kicked in, and moments later it returned to full local strength via the booster.
There’s not much more we can show you or tell you about Santa Fe radio; arriving in town late on a Friday afternoon as we did, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to get station tours, and as noted earlier, the Peralta Ridge site is rather mountainous and inaccessible. We also didn’t try, though perhaps we should have, to visit community station KSFR (101.1 White Rock). This station started out on 90.7 before trading that frequency off to EMF Broadcasting, which converted it to K-Love outlet KQLV and moved it up to Sandia; today, it’s a class C2 signal with studios at the local community college and transmitter up at Pajarito Mountain, not far from Peralta Ridge west of Los Alamos.
We did drive up to Los Alamos, more than 7,000 feet above sea level, on Saturday morning, not only to add tiny Los Alamos County to our log for the trip but also to see if anyone was around at the little local AM station in town – and indeed there was!
KRSN (1490 Los Alamos) signed on in 1949, just as the town was opening itself up after the exciting World War II years in which it was a secret base for U.S. nuclear research. It spawned KRSN-FM on 98.5 in 1956, later spinning off the FM to become an Albuquerque move-in, and by the early 21st century the AM station was on the verge of going dark in the face of massive FM competition from Santa Fe and Albuquerque and the loss of its tower site.
Fortunately for Los Alamos and KRSN, the station was saved by a mom-and-pop operator. Los Alamos natives David and Gillian Sutton bought KRSN out of bankruptcy in 2005 and have done a fantastic job rebuilding it as a community voice, running the place mostly by themselves.
It’s Gillian Sutton behind the board when we stop by the new KRSN studios in a strip mall on Arkansas Street around lunchtime, and we get a quick tour of the station’s simple two-room studio facility while she’s busy running a remote broadcast from a local car dealership. At the time, KRSN was completing its move to a new tower site in White Rock after several years of STA operation from a temporary antenna; we’ll have to go back at some point to see the new transmitter facility.
(In 2012, by the way, the Suttons were named broadcasters of the year by the New Mexico Broadcasters, honoring their work saving the station and covering a massive wildfire in the area.)
From Los Alamos, it’s a fairly long drive – more than 200 miles north and west – to our Saturday-night stop in Durango, Colorado, and along that 200-mile trip, there were just two more stations to see. In Espanola, 25 miles northeast of Los Alamos, the local AM station is KDCE, which signed on in 1963 as a daytimer on 970. In the late 1980s, KDCE relocated to its present spot at 950 on the dial, allowing it to boost day power to 4200 watts and add 80 watts at night, which is enough to cover the small town from its site on the east side of the Rio Grande, just off Riverside Drive.
Our last stop before Durango came just after we crossed the New Mexico-Colorado line. The resort town of Pagosa Springs is where US 84 meets up with US 160, which carried us west into Durango, and on the west side of town we find the studio and transmitter site of the local radio stations, KWUF (1400) and KWUF-FM (106.3). The AM carries satellite country, while the FM does adult contemporary. The stations started out as KPAG on the AM side in 1975 and KRQS on the FM side in 1986; while the AM is here at the studio site, the FM is up in the steep mountains southwest of town, along with two noncommercial relays: KPGS (88.1) relays Four Corners Public Radio (KSUT) from Ignacio, while KTPS (89.7) relays “Light Praise Radio” KTLF from Colorado Springs.
In an earlier installment, we’ve already shown you what we saw in Durango – so in next week’s Site of the Week, we’ll jump ahead a bit and finish off our New Mexico part of the trip with a stop in Farmington.
Thanks to KRSN’s Gillian Sutton for the tour!
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Next week: Farmington, New Mexico, 2011