Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you’ve been paying close attention to this page over the last few years (or to our Facebook page, for that matter), you might recall that back in the summer of 2011, your editor found himself riding shotgun on a whirlwind four-day driving trip from upstate New York to the southern California coast on pretty much no notice whatsoever.
The mission of the trip was pretty clear: get our friend Aaron and a car full of his stuff to the West Coast in one piece, in time for him to start a new job and for me to catch a plane back east. That left very little time along the way for anything but driving, driving and more driving.
But “very little” isn’t quite “none,” especially if one is willing to sacrifice a little sleep along the way, which is why we were able to squeeze in little bits of radio sightseeing, some of which have already appeared here on the site. In this week’s installment and next week’s, we’ll show you just about everything else we saw along the way (unless you’re passionately interested in a tower in Effingham, Illinois, which we’ll show you later on as part of our bigger 2012 Illinois/Missouri trip.)
The first day and a half of the trip went through a lot of territory we cover fairly routinely, so it wasn’t until the middle of day two that we found a good excuse to interrupt the high-speed push westward and make a quickie detour to see a site, in part because it wasn’t much of a detour. I-44, the bypass of the old Route 66 that we were following all the way from St. Louis to California, runs just along the north side of Springfield, Missouri, and it’s not even a mile north of I-44 that we find KSGF (1260 Springfield) at its three-tower site off North Kansas Avenue.
This is an old, old station, having started out in 1926 as KGBX up in St. Joseph, north of Kansas City. It made the long move to Springfield in 1932, and I believe this three-tower site dates to sometime right around World War II. A big shuffle in the mid-1980s put 1260 in the hands of Great Empire Broadcasting, which swapped some calls and formats around its new AM cluster and moved another venerable callsign, KTTS, over here from its weaker home at 1400 on the dial.
Great Empire’s stations eventually all went to Journal Broadcast Group, and in the early years of the 21st century Journal decided to stop sharing calls between its AM and FM outlets, which is how 1260 became news-talk KSGF and the KTTS calls became FM-only. (KSGF itself picked up an FM simulcast on 104.1 later on.)
There is, no doubt, a lot more to see in Springfield – it’s a decent-sized city with multiple TV stations, a public radio outlet where we know some folks, and the scenic majesty of the Ozarks nearby – but we were still several hundred miles short of our overnight destination, Tulsa, and so we had to push on westward on I-44.
The most direct route to Tulsa would have stayed on I-44 all the way through Joplin, at Missouri’s southwestern corner, but as we noted in an earlier Site of the Week installment, a detour through Arkansas beckoned us off-course later that afternoon.
While that detour cost us a chance to check out Joplin’s broadcast scene (including, again, multiple TV stations and some interesting AM and FM facilities), it did give us an opportunity to make one stop at the extreme southwestern edge of Missouri, just shy of the Arkansas state line along US 71 in the town of Neosho.
There’s nothing wildly distinctive about KNEO (91.7 Neosho), a Christian station that signed on at 91.5 in 1986 and moved to 91.7 from this current site in 1994 – but here it was along the way, and so here it is on the site. (And someday, we’ll find an excuse to go back and spend more time seeing Springfield and Joplin, too.)
After our Arkansas detour, it was well after dark by the time we got to Tulsa, and so it wasn’t until the third morning of the trip that we made it out to one of Tulsa’s two most famous AM stations. 50-kilowatt day/25-kilowatt night KRMG (740) is located way out in a remote area west of Tulsa, and so we couldn’t make time for it on this compressed itinerary, but 50-kilowatt fulltimer KFAQ (1170) is another story. As befits a former I-B clear that protects only WWVA in Wheeling, WV, the 1170 Tulsa site is conveniently located out to the east of Tulsa so it can beam westward at night – and conveniently enough, that’s also where our hotel for the night was, near the spot where US 412, I-44 and I-244 all converge.
It’s only a short detour, then, to head back east on East 11th Street to see the three big towers of the KFAQ array – and to catch some photos that will make it into the new Tower Site Calendar 2014, which you can now pre-order (just keep reading…)
If the “KFAQ” calls don’t sound familiar, that’s OK: this station was much better known under its longtime identity of KVOO, the “Voice of Oklahoma,” dating back to 1926. By the 1930s, it was transmitting from this location, which was then right astride Route 66, with a lineup that included a young announcer named Paul Harvey Aurandt. You know him, of course, as Paul… (long pause) … Paul Harvey, and now you know the rest of –
Well, not quite: in 1947, when Harvey had already begun moving on to national acclaim, KVOO replaced an earlier antenna at this site with the current three-tower directional array, 316 feet tall, allowing it to go to a full 50 kilowatts day and night while still protecting WWVA. The transmitter building here is even newer, dating only to the 1980s and the demolition of a much larger Art Deco transmitter facility. And the KFAQ callsign came around in 2002 when then-owner Great Empire decided to split callsigns between its AM and FM pairs, leaving the historic KVOO calls to be heard only on KVOO-FM 98.5. (Where have we heard that story before?)
Like its sister stations in Springfield, KFAQ/KVOO ended up in the hands of Journal Broadcast Group, which still owns it today.
Once again, the pressure of a tight schedule – our hotel for this night is all the way in Gallup, New Mexico, nearly 800 miles to the west – mean we don’t get a chance to see anything much more of what seems like an interesting, history-filled market (check out the awesome Tulsa TV Memories site if you don’t believe me!)
But as we’re saying a premature “farewell” to Tulsa, looping south of downtown headed westward on I-44 and promising to come back sometime in cooler weather, we notice a three-tower AM site just north of the highway and grab a quick picture from the road. This is KYAL (1550 Sapulpa), part of Stephens Media’s statewide sports-talk network, and it runs 2500 watts by day and 40 watts at night from this site.
In our next installment, we’ll show you the next sites we saw on the trip, many hours and many hundreds of miles later…
Thanks to Aaron Read for the drive!
But the wait is over. The Tower Site Calendar, 2014 edition, has gone to press, and you can be the first to reserve your very own. We expect delivery at the end of the month, and we’ll send them right off to their loving homes, spiral bound, shrink wrapped and best of all, with a convenient hole for hanging!
This year’s gorgeous electronic pinups include the iconic towers of Catalina Island, a combiner system in St. Louis, the twin towers of KNRS in Salt Lake City, a historic rooftop site in Jamestown, New York and many more!
If you want a tower calendar on your wall NOW, you can pick up the current edition for just $5 with your 2014 order!
Click here to order your new calendar!
Then check out our store page for our other great merchandise, including the last-ever FM Atlas, the new NRC AM Log and a model of the KSAN tower.
Want access to more than a dozen years’ worth of Tower Site of the Week? All our archives, fully searchable, are available to Fybush.com subscribers – and you get full access to NorthEast Radio Watch, too! Subscriptions start at just $15. Sign up here!
Next week: Amarillo, Texas and Eastern New Mexico, 2011