Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Most of our second “Big Trip” of 2011 was focused on northern New Mexico, with a little side trip into Colorado’s southwestern corner. But the trip headed out from the NAB Show in Las Vegas, and its final day found us barreling across northern Arizona to get the rental car returned and to get ourselves back to McCarran Airport to fly home.
Even the speediest drive across the vast expanse of northern Arizona calls for at least a stop or two, though, and the logical place to do it is Flagstaff. The commercial center of the region, Flagstaff is the biggest city along the I-40 (old US 66) corridor – and as befits a community of this size more than a hundred miles from any other major population center, it’s ended up with quite the collection of radio stations.
Unusually, the radio scene in Flagstaff today would be completely unrecognizable to anyone who was here when radio first signed on in town back in 1950. There were two AMs then: KCLS on 1360 and KGPH on 690, and neither ended up staying on those frequencies. KCLS soon moved down to 600, making room for the new Phoenix-market KRUX on 1360.
A third station, KEOS, appeared on 1290 as a daytimer in 1959, followed in 1962 by two more AMs, KFGT on 930 and KJKJ on 1400. By the time the 1960s were over, KEOS had bought out KGPH and moved down the dial to 690; later, it would change calls to KZKZ and then KVNA, a callsign that had already appeared once before on 690.
Over the years, several of those AMs failed: KCLS closed down in the early 1980s on 600, with KVNA moving down the dial from 690 to 600. The signal on 1400 disappeared, and by the time I first visited Flagstaff in 2001, just two AMs remained: KVNA on 600 and the former KFGT on 930, by then renamed KAFF.
It was KAFF that brought the first commercial FM, KAFF-FM (92.9), to the market in 1968. More FMs didn’t follow until 1975 and 1988 – yes, even that late, you could put a full class C FM on the air up here just for the asking. (And if you’d bothered to ask, as KVNA did when it put KVNA-FM on the air at 97.5, you’d have had a signal that could be moved down to become a Phoenix rimshot 20 years later.)
There were attempts at local TV here, too: KOAI-TV (Channel 2) signed on in 1970 as an NBC affiliate, later becoming KNAZ. By 1997, it was co-owned with Phoenix NBC outlet KPNX (Channel 12), using KPNX news content alongside local news produced at its small studio just off I-40; in 2008, KNAZ became a full satellite of KPNX and the old KNAZ studios were closed. Other Flagstaff TV ventures on channels 4 and 9 disappeared during the DTV transition, while a fourth VHF outlet, KFPH channel 13, is now the nominal primary for a class A signal that serves Phoenix viewers with UniMas programming.
Fast-forward a quarter of a century and Flagstaff is now served by no fewer than three clusters of commercial stations. The GuyAnn Corporation has KAFF (930, playing classic country and translated on 93.5), KAFF-FM (92.9, with mainstream country), KMGN (93.9 “The Mountain,” with rock) and KFSZ (106.1 Munds Park, which was hot AC “My 106.1” in 2011 and is now top-40 “Hits”).
Yavapai Broadcasting, based just a little ways to the south in Prescott, has KVNA (doing news-talk and translated on 104.7), a newer incarnation of KVNA-FM (100.1, “Sunny 100” with AC), and top-40 KQST (102.9 Sedona).
And that, finally, brings us to the studio stop we’re making here in Flagstaff, at the third major cluster in town. This building on North 4th Street, one of the major commercial drags in town, is home to the studios and offices of Grenax Communications, and on this April day in 2011, that’s three stations: AAA “The Canyon” KFLX (92.5 Chino Village, with an in-town translator on 104.1), “Wolf” classic rock KWMX (96.7 Williams), “Big Talker” KBTK (105.1 Kachina Village, the original KFLX facility) and “KOLT Country” KSED (107.5 Sedona).
Our tour guide is Dan Kennedy, who’d moved west from his old home base in Lima, Ohio to become operations manager here. It’s an interesting operational situation: these four stations share a single live on-air studio that’s rotated among the various stations’ live airshifts. If memory serves, the talk station had the live afternoon show from this room, while “KOLT” and “Wolf” went live later in the day. Additional tracking came from a production studio down the hall, near the rack room where the automation servers were located that powered most of the day on these stations.
Not long after we headed on down the road to catch our plane, there were some changes at Grenax: “Canyon” on 92.5 and 104.1 gave way to 80s pop “Rewind,” and Dan headed back east to Sarkes Tarzian’s WAJI/WLDE in Fort Wayne, where we’ll catch up with him again in a future installment.
Meanwhile, if you’re wondering where the towers are these days – well, Flagstaff is a tough market for seeing towers. The KAFF(AM) tower stands out on the west side of town, just north of the old KAFF studios on the old Route 66. KVNA lost its tower site to development a few years back, and it’s been running from a longwire temporary antenna ever since. (We looked, and couldn’t find it.) And in the mountainous terrain of northern Arizona, the big FM signals all emanate from remote, high-altitude sites on Mingus Mountain and Mormon Mountain, places we couldn’t possibly reach by rental car. As a result, our tower pictures so far this week (and a few studios, too) come from a much earlier visit to Flagstaff, on a very snowy April day back in 2001.
So in order to offer you at least one contemporary tower picture, we close this installment 140 miles down the road in Kingman. That’s where KAAA (1230) recently moved from its longtime studio/transmitter site right in town to a more remote site off I-40 on the southern outskirts of town – and it’s that tower that becomes our final stop on this April 2011 trip. (At some point, we’ll dip back into the archives and pull up some more Kingman pictures from an earlier trip.)
Thanks to Dan Kennedy for the tour!
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Next week: TBA