Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We do indeed play favorites here at this column: I gladly confess that San Diego is one of my favorite cities anywhere. It’s not just the perpetually perfect weather – it’s also the friendly broadcast community, where there’s always something new to see every time I’m in town.
2012 happened, by chance, to be a year that brought me to San Diego several times, and our first stop on this tour actually takes in two visits, one in April and another in December. We needed to see the many facets of public broadcaster KPBS on multiple visits because a lot was changing there in 2012. We’ve already shown you the piece of our April visit that included remote Mount San Miguel, home to the KPBS-TV (Channel 15/RF 30) transmitter and, at least back then, KPBS-FM (89.5) as well.
We’ll get to the FM station’s big transmitter move in a moment, but first we should look at some of the changes back in town at the KPBS studios at the edge of the campus of San Diego State University, the stations’ licensee.
The “Copley Telecommunications Center” is named for the family that long owned the San Diego newspapers, the Union and the Tribune (later merged into the Union-Tribune and now known under new ownership as U-T San Diego). We spend most of our time here on the first floor, which is home to studio and technical operations for both radio and TV.
Engineering is front and center here: walk in from the lobby and the first thing you see is the glassed-in master control for KPBS-TV, which sits adjacent to a spacious tech center area. A corridor alongside master control features a mural of the stations’ history (back to their early days as educational KEBS-TV/KEBS-FM) that leads back to the TV studio area at the rear of the building. There are two adjoining TV studios here, a big one that’s used for pledge drives and other live events and a smaller one (seen above) used for the nightly “Evening Edition” local public affairs show. (How many PBS stations still do nightly local news? Not many.)
The KPBS-FM studios stretch back along an extension to the building behind the TV studios, and they were in a state of transition during our 2012 visits. As I detailed in an extensive Radio World story, this cluster of studios and control rooms had been built out in the early 1990s as a showplace for Pacific Recorders & Electronics, the console manufacturer that was based just up the road in nearby Carlsbad. PR&E wanted to find a station near the airport where it could show off its latest and greatest gear to visiting clients, and KPBS was happy to serve as the recipient of PR&E’s largesse.
All those BMX boards were being replaced in 2012 by new gear from Harris, which had acquired PR&E along the way, which is why our April visit found KPBS-FM operating from a temporary studio upstairs, adjacent to the big new radio/TV newsroom that KPBS had opened in 2011.
By December, the KPBS-FM studios had moved back downstairs and the station had turned its attention to the finishing touches of its other big 2012 project, relocating the 89.5 transmitter from Miguel, far to the east of the city, to the Mount Soledad tower farm in La Jolla, just north of downtown.
There are three major clusters of towers on Soledad, and we see two of them here. In the photo above (which you’ll also find in the new Tower Site Calendar 2015, now available for pre-order!), the two towers at left belong to KFMB-TV (Channel 8), San Diego’s oldest TV station, while the one at right belongs to its rival, KGTV (Channel 10), a block to the north.
We start here at the KFMB site, home not only to the TV station but to four FMs as well. KFMB-FM (100.7) and Lincoln Financial Media’s KBZT (94.9) and KIFM (98.1) had already shared the massive Dielectric “Quadzilla” antenna on the KFMB-TV tower, and the addition of KPBS on 89.5 meant the arrival of a new version of “Quadzilla” designed to handle that lower frequency as well.
That’s “Quadzilla” in the photo at left above, and above it is the standby antenna that these stations used on a temporary basis while the big guy was being replaced; the TV station is above that at the top of the tower. We didn’t get inside the main KFMB building on this visit, so our tour here is limited to a peek at the new KPBS-FM Nautel setup in the tenant space next to the main building.
Just up the road, though, we were treated to a fairly extensive look at the other big site up here. KFSD-TV (Channel 10) signed on up here in 1953, four years after KFMB-TV’s debut, and the self-supporting tower here has survived through multiple owners and callsigns for channel 10. It was KOGO-TV for a while, and for four decades now it’s been known as KGTV, now a Scripps-owned ABC affiliate.
As the original occupant and owner of the site, KGTV gets the main space here, though since it stayed on VHF during the DTV transition, it doesn’t take a lot of space to generate channel 10’s 20 kW signal. That Larcan at left is the old channel 10 analog rig, now coasting at reduced digital power, and I believe those Harris MAX transmitters at right serve an LPTV up here, Spanish-language KBNT. We see the whole room from above, where a loft area next to the TV transmitter room houses STL antennas and the combiner system for the four FMs that share the 10-bay ERI master antenna on the TV station’s tower: Clear Channel’s KMYI (94.1) and KIOZ (105.3) and CBS Radio’s KYXY (96.5) and KEGY (103.7).
The FMs are in tight spaces adjoining the TV room, and we get quick tours of each of their areas, too. The rock format at KIOZ comes from a trio of Harris transmitters, one for HD and a pair for analog with some clever air-handling going on above them. Another Clear Channel station is a newer arrival up here: the Carlsbad-licensed signal on 95.7 was KOGO-FM, simulcasting news-talk KOGO (600), in 2012; it has since flipped to rhythmic hits as KSSX, “Kiss 95.7.” When it moved to 95.7 from 95.9 and relocated south down the coast from its original city of license, Oceanside, it took up residence in a corner here, where its older BE transmitter sits opposite a newer BE HD box. Unlike the “big 4” here, 95.7 uses a six-bay Shively antenna that’s mounted on a shorter tower next to the big channel 10 tower. (You can see it up above at right; opposite that 95.7 antenna is a four-bay ERI that serves as an aux for 94.1 and 105.3.)
KMYI on 94.1 is the original FM here, tracing its history back to a long run as KFSD-FM and KOGO-FM. It’s old enough to enjoy grandfathered superpower, running 77 kW ERP here as compared to the 26 kW or so that the other FMs sharing its antenna use. That power comes from a pair of Continentals, augmented by a Nautel HD transmitter.
In an adjoining room, CBS has accomplished quite the feat of contortion in packing its two FMs into a very tight space. I believe that’s 103.7 on the left and 96.5 on the right, and two exceptionally tall racks of gear next to each pair of Harris transmitters, because where else can they go? (That’s even a last-ditch emergency studio setup in the foreground!)
And we close this installment with one more treat: we’ve featured KOGO (600) at its lovely Art Deco Emerald Hills site in detail in a previous Tower Site of the Week, but our December 2012 visit included another stop at the site for a bit of a farewell: KOGO had long since decommissioned its massive RCA BTA-5F transmitter, vintage 1948, and engineer Scottie Rice was busy dismantling it to add it to his extensive collection of vintage broadcast gear. Working in his spare time, it took Scottie more than a year to get his new prize out of the building and into storage; this was the last time we’d get to see it in its original habitat – and also a chance to poke around downstairs, where we got to see some fallout-shelter relics and the combiner that allows several auxiliary FM facilities to share space here.
Thanks to Scottie Rice, KPBS’ Leon Messanie and Clear Channel’s Bill Thompson for the tours!
And don’t miss a big batch of San Diego IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: KXAS, Fort Worth