Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
This week’s installment of Site of the Week is a bit of a catch-all, taking in several AM sites on the Illinois side of the St. Louis market and then hopscotching along I-70 on the way eastward to our next real tour stop back in the summer of 2012, Terre Haute, Indiana.
We start this time way up in the northern reaches of the St. Louis metro, where the Illinois 255 freeway loops around the northeast corner of the suburban sprawl that extends more than 20 miles out from the city center. It’s up here, in a bend where 255 turns westward near the Fosterburg Road (IL 5) exit, that we find the four in-line towers of KFNS (590 Wood River). This was a fairly early exurban AM when it signed on in 1961 as WBBY, a 500-watt daytimer; four years later, it changed calls to WRTH and established itself with a fairly long-running standards format. This site on Stutz Lane appears to date from the late 1970s, and it’s from here that 590 operated with 1000 watts day and night under several other calls, including business talk WCEO and later KEZK(AM), a sister to KEZK-FM (102.5 St. Louis).
Under the KFNS calls, this was the first all-sports station in town, but its relatively anemic suburban signal doomed “The Fan” not long after our 2012 visit; 590 went “guy talk” as “The Man,” while its sister station KXFN (1380 St. Louis, the old KWK) dropped “The Fan 2” and became…yes, “The Woman.”
Returning southward on 255 into more developed parts of the east metro, we pass not only the KMOX site we showed you in detail a few weeks ago but also a newer neighbor just to the south. What’s now KQQZ (1190 De Soto) started out in the late 1960s as KHAD, another exurban daytimer that was then actually operating from De Soto, way south of St. Louis on the Missouri side of the river.
As KRFT, the station moved to this five-tower site near Collinsville, Illinois in 2002, and for a time it was a sister station to KFNS, running 10 kW by day from those five in-line towers. In 2012, it had just added that sixth offset tower for a 650-watt, two-tower night signal, one of the many new 1190s made possible by the long-ago downgrade of WOWO in Fort Wayne.
These days, KQQZ is part of an unusual St. Louis-based cluster called Insane Broadcasting, which runs a variety of music formats on its stations, including oldies KZQZ (1430 St. Louis, ex-WIL) and black gospel (since flipped to sports) on WQQX (1490 East St. Louis, ex-WESL). On 1190, KQQZ was carrying a mix of classic country and right-wing talk when we tuned in two summers ago.
The biggest cluster of AM sites in metro St. Louis is just a few miles southwest of KMOX and KQQZ. The low-lying land on the east bank of the Mississippi here is somewhat reminiscent of the New Jersey Meadowlands, at least in its plentiful AM directional arrays and industrial wasteland landscape, if not its vegetation.
Shown above are two of the three DAs that lined the south shore of Horseshoe Lake, off Illinois 203. In the foreground at left are the two rows of four short towers that long carried KATZ (1600), one of the dominant radio voices of black St. Louis for decades. In 2010, KATZ (now doing black gospel under Clear Channel ownership) left this site behind for a new eight-tower array in Bunkum, Illinois, out to the southeast where I-64 meets I-255. But these towers were still standing in the summer of 2012, and behind them, off to the right (looking a little eastward from our perch on Madison Road next to a Pilot truck stop), we can see the four towers of KTRS (550).
KTRS, of course, is the station long known as KSD, and once upon a time its 5 kilowatts low on the dial at 550 was considered an awfully impressive signal.
Unfortunately for KSD, by the time Gannett had rebranded it as KUSA in the 1980s, the market had begun to outgrow the 550 signal, especially at night when the suburbs kept sprawling out into 550’s nulls toward co-channel stations such as WKRC in Cincinnati, KFYR in Bismarck, and KTSA in San Antonio.
It didn’t help matters any when a storm in 2006 took down two of the four 550 towers; by the time KTRS rebuilt the downed towers (this time as guyed sticks instead of self-supporters), it had developed a reputation for signal problems that dogged it through an association with the St. Louis Cardinals, which eventually moved from 550 back to their longtime home at KMOX, even though the team still owns a piece of the station.
A third AM site is just east of KTRS, but not shown here: the three-tower site on 630 is the historic KXOK, St. Louis’ big top-40 voice; more recently, it’s done religion as KJSL (Crawford) and now KYFI (Bible Broadcasting Network) – and you can see some 2001-vintage pictures of the KTRS and KJSL sites from our original Big Trip, here.
We conclude this week’s installment with a few quick stops out along I-70, breaking up the monotony of the two hours or so it takes to get to the Indiana state line on our way home at the end of this trip.
Vandalia, 60 miles east of St. Louis, is a small town that stakes its claim to fame on having been an early capital of Illinois. It didn’t get radio until 1963, when WPMB (1500) signed on as a 250-watt daytimer. Today it’s part of a Cromwell Broadcasting AM/FM pair with WKRV (107.1), and while we somehow missed their studios downtown, we saw the WPMB tower just west of town on West St. Louis Avenue.
(WKRV is east of town, but I think that may be an old FM antenna for it atop the WPMB stick; WPMB itself now has an FM translator at a different site.)
Thirty dull miles of I-70 eastward, we come to the overlap with I-55 along the bypass around Effingham, a town we’d passed through a year earlier during our “Great Cross-Country Trip of 2011.”
Making a quick gas stop back then, we’d noticed a tower just down the road, right by the junction of Illinois 32/33 and I-55/70 on the north side of town, and later research showed that we’d photographed “KJ Country” WKJT (102.3 Teutopolis, which shares its tower with American Family Association’s WEFI (89.5 Effingham) and several translators.
On our 2012 trip, we checked out the other big tower in town, also easily visible from I-55/70 on the southwest side of town. This tower is actually on South Raney Street, just south of US 40, near the giant cross that is an Effingham highway landmark, and it’s home to Cromwell’s signals here in Effingham. News-talk WCRA (1090) is the oldest station in town, going back to 1947 as a 1000-watt daytimer. In 2012, it shared this tower with its FM translator on 100.5 and its class B country FM sister WCRC (95.7). Since our visit, Cromwell has added a new FM here: WJKG (105.5 Altamont) was licensed on this tower last year and is now doing “Jack FM,” having picked up that format from a Cromwell rimshot, WHQQ (98.9 Neoga), that’s now sports.
And for now, that’s everything we’ve got in the archives from rural Illinois. In next week’s installment, we’ll show you a last visit to one of the oldest studio buildings in the country, just over the state line in Indiana.
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of southern Illinois IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Terre Haute, Indiana, 2012