Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we left you at the end of last week’s installment, our recap of our madcap 2011 dash from (nearly) coast to coast found us waking up on Day 3 of the trip in Tulsa, Oklahoma, 800 miles east of our destination for the night in Gallup, New Mexico.
Heading west from Tulsa, the next big city is Oklahoma City, but we were able to speed right on through, having covered that market in considerable depth a decade ago (see those stories here, here and here.) From the western edge of the Oklahoma City metro sprawl, it’s a remarkable four hours of broadcast emptiness before we hit the next city of any significant size; the drive along I-40 takes us past some small stations in Weatherford, Clinton, Elk City and Sayre before we finally hit the Texas state line and another hour of emptiness leading up to Amarillo.
This is an area of good ground conductivity, so big Amarillo AM signals such as KGNC (710) and KIXZ (940) are audible more than 100 miles away. With a little more advance planning and just a bit more time to spare, we’d probably have pulled off I-40 on the east side of Amarillo and headed just a couple of miles south to see the four-tower KIXZ array; KGNC’s five-tower array far to the northeast of Amarillo would have been a much bigger project and will have to await some future visit to the area.
What we did make the time for was a quick spin just a few blocks off the interstate into downtown Amarillo, somnolent on this late Sunday afternoon, where US 60, 87 and 287 all spaghetti their way northward from I-40 into the one-way grid of city streets. Take the rightmost fork from the exit and you’ll find yourself next to one of the nation’s more unusual TV studio buildings, the glass pyramid of ABC affiliate KVII (Channel 7) facing SE 11th Avenue between Pierce and Buchanan streets. (Downtown Amarillo’s north-south grid is all presidential names, and must have been laid out in the 1880s, seeing as how it ends at Cleveland Street.)
Across Pierce on the north side of 11th Avenue, facing out toward Fillmore Street, is where we find KVII’s competition: Fox affiliate KCIT (Channel 14) started out in this building and picked up a partner when Nexstar acquired the market’s NBC affiliate, KAMR (Channel 4), a decade or so ago. KAMR is the former KGNC-TV, and it moved downtown from an earlier studio site north of town. That prominent deck there, with a nice skyline view, is the “Sky Studio” for KAMR/KCIT newscasts – and we should note that this cluster also has the MyNetwork affiliate, KCPN-LP (Channel 33), which is also on a DTV subchannel of KAMR.
The TV towers are all up north of town, as is the studio of the market’s CBS outlet, KFDA (Channel 10) – but we’ve still got hundreds of miles to go before bedtime, so it’s back to I-40 west we head.
There’s one more stop to be made on the way out of Amarillo, though. “Cadillac Ranch” is more than an old Springsteen tune. It’s a real piece of artwork, first erected in 1974 at a site a few miles closer to town and then moved out to its present site in 1997 as development began to encroach. (There’s a slight broadcast connection here: eccentric rich guy Stanley Marsh 3, who provided the land and apparently the money for the artwork, is also the former owner of KVII.)
Whatever colors the Caddys once were, they’re now shells that are probably held together as much as anything by the hundreds of encrusted layers of spray paint left by decades of visitors. We did our part by adding a “NERW” to the side of one of the cars before trudging back out to the frontage road and heading back to the highway.
From Amarillo, it’s nearly two more hours of emptiness past the New Mexico border to the next town of any consequence at all.
Tucumcari, New Mexico is a sleepy, dusty little place with an extraordinarily wide Main Street these days, but it all makes sense when you know that the Main Street used to be US 66, and those motels were once packed with travelers looking for a convenient stop along the long road. (The “Tucumcari Tonite” billboards still line I-40 for hundreds of miles in each direction, promoting the plethora of lodging in town.)
Radio in Tucumcari, such as it is, comes from an AM/FM pair located on a side street just a block off old Route 66. KTNM (1400) and KQAY (92.7) were all automated on that July Sunday two years ago when we stopped by, but we’re told that new owners have brought back some local programming – and the legal IDs that were missing at the top of the hour, too! KTNM dates back to 1941, while its FM sister came along in 1968 as KTNM-FM, just as the interstate was getting ready to bypass historic Route 66. (Its current callsign comes from Quay County, of which Tucumcari is the seat.)
An hour down the road from Tucumcari, Santa Rosa sits at the junction of old 66 and US 84, the old road to Santa Fe. (Go far enough back and the original routings of 66 itself went through Santa Fe, though the “classic” 66 routing follows I-40’s path westward from Santa Rosa over the mountains and down to Albuquerque.)
Radio came to Santa Rosa in 1960, when KSYX (1420) signed on as a 1000-watt daytimer, boasting of “100-mile coverage” from its site on the newly-proclaimed “Broadcast Hill” on Route 66 (known locally as Will Rogers Drive), two miles east of downtown Santa Rosa. KSYX remained daytime-only until the early 1980s, when it slid down the dial to a new 1000-watt fulltime home on 1340. A new callsign, KSSR, came along in 1989.
FM came to town in 2001, in the form of KRSR (95.9), a class A signal owned by Albuquerque broadcast entrepreneur Don Davis and LMA’d to KSSR – and not long before we came through town in 2011, KSSR turned off its AM signal for good, moving the KSSR calls to 95.9 as KSSR-FM, by now upgraded to a 50 kW class C2 signal from what I think is the old AM tower next to the studios.
From here, it’s still 250 miles to our hotel for the night across the state in Gallup, and nearly a thousand miles to our final destination on the Pacific coast – but this is the end of the road for this series of Tower Site visits. That’s because the rest of the broadcast sites we saw on this trip have already been featured here: we picked up a few dusk shots of the FM towers along I-40 west of Albuquerque that were featured in one of our Albuquerque installments, reached Gallup late at night, and saw the studios of KGAK in a visit we included as part of our Big Trip 2011 coverage. And on the final day of our trip, we saw no radio at all – just pushed over some fairly familiar ground to us on the way to California.
It’s a big, big country…and one of these days we’ll cross it again, hopefully at a more leisurely pace.
Thanks to Aaron Read for the drive!
Yes, the 2014 Tower Site Calendar has technically been two years in the making, since Scott gathered photos for it on the cross-country 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.
And don’t miss a big batch of cross-country IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Bloomington, Indiana