Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Last week, we circled the mighty metropolis of Miami from the edges where the big AM sites are located. In this week’s installment, the last of our Miami series (but not at all the end of our South Florida trip from March 2015!), we finally make it into the city and out to the beaches.
Coral Way, just southwest of downtown Miami, is deep in the heart of Little Havana – but it’s also home to the city’s noncommercial jazz station, WDNA (88.9), which has its studios in this one-story building at 2921 SW Coral Way. Walk in and you won’t see radio at first; instead, you’ll think you’re in an art gallery, because there is indeed a two-room art gallery/performance space out front here. Those windows on either side of the “JAZZ” sign look into the studio core that runs down the center of the building.
You can see some of the artwork (and out into the gallery area) from the main air studio that looks out on the east-side hallway; on the other side, there’s a cozy production studio that mirrors the SAS installation in the main studio.
A massive record library lines the west side of the building across the hall; down the hall, engineer Tom Morris works his magic in a small rack room from which WDNA’s programming is sent way south to the old channel 6 analog tower down by Homestead, 20 miles or so south of Miami. (We didn’t get there on this trip, alas.)
There’s a bit of a mystery across the street from WDNA, where two old FM bays crown an office building at 2828 Coral Way; later research confirms that this building is the former home of WQBA (1140)/WQBA-FM (107.5, now WAMR), which leads us to think this is a disused former WQBA-FM aux antenna.
The next morning, our last in Miami, found us out along Biscayne Bay east of downtown Miami. The road that leads out to Key Biscayne goes over a smaller island called Virginia Key first, and in addition to a big water plant and several beaches, there’s an AM tower on public land here. This stick is used by both Salem’s WKAT (1360) and CBS Radio’s WQAM (560), which moved here from an older tower that sat right in Biscayne Bay near the now-demolished Miami Herald building. With the future of this site in some question, both of these stations have applications pending to move to another site we’ll see in a bit.
Back downtown, the One Biscayne Tower was the tallest in town when it went up in 1972 and held that title until 1984. Over the years, it housed several FM signals – WAEZ 94.9 (later WINZ and WZTA) and WYOR 105.1 (now WHQT) were its first tenants, followed by WWWL 93.9, all moving to the Guy Gannett Tower when it went up in the 1980s. Later on, WCMQ-FM (92.1, now 92.3 Hialeah) made One Biscayne its home; today, sister station WRMA (95.7 North Miami Beach) is here too, as is iHeart’s “Evolution” dance translator on 93.5.
(“The Pole” atop One Biscayne has its own history site, if you want to learn more.)
From downtown Miami, it’s just a short causeway drive to Miami Beach, the glamorous coastal island that lies just across Biscayne Bay.
“Downtown” Miami Beach, such as it is, sits at the island’s southern tip – and just a few blocks from that tip is one of the oldest AM sites still standing in the market.
WMET signed on here in 1954 with 250 watts at 1490 on the dial. Later on, this 1490 signal picked up the WMBM calls that had belonged to a Miami Beach daytimer on 800 (the distant ancestor of today’s WAXY 790). The 1490 station had an early FM sister on 93.9, the distant ancestor of today’s WMIA, and while 93.9 has long since moved to the tower farm on the county line, 1490 is still right here on First Street in Miami Beach. Its rooftop tower sits above a row of bars and nightclubs – and the one right under the tower (in what I think was the original WMET studio building) is now known as “Radio Bar” in honor of what’s sitting on the roof.
Back on the mainland, the postwar years produced another new upper-dial AM. WSKP (1450) signed on in 1947. Today, it’s in Spanish as WOCN and its squat tower sits just off US 1 in North Miami next to the building that’s now the studio of ESPN Deportes outlet WNMA (1210). (This is the site that WKAT and WQAM have targeted as a possible replacement if they lose their current location on Virginia Key.)
And we end this installment – and this visit to Miami – with the second-oldest station in town. WIOD (610) signed on back in 1926 with a callsign that touted the “Wonderful Isle Of Dreams,” operated by developer and promoter Carl Fisher from a site at 4300 Alton Road in Miami Beach. The station moved north a decade and a half later to what’s now North Bay Village, an island along the 79th Street Causeway between Miami and Miami Beach, and there it has remained ever since.
When Cox-Knight Broadcasting won the permit to build channel 7 as Miami’s second VHF TV station in 1956, the radio and TV stations took on matching calls: 610 became WCKR, while channel 7 became WCKT.
Both stations operated from studios along the causeway, staying put even after ownership split in the 1960s. AM 610 returned to its WIOD calls in 1962 and has kept them ever since, now as an iHeart talker operating from Miramar studios that we saw in our first Miami installment. (The old WIOD/WAIA-FM studio here is now vacant, used only as a transmitter building for 610).
And channel 7? After 30 years as the market’s NBC outlet, owner Ed Ansin changed calls to WSVN in the 1980s and then flipped the station to Fox a few years later. From studios that remain here at North Bay Village, WSVN pioneered the sort of flash-and-dash local news that revolutionized local TV, for better or worse, from the 1990s forward.
Thanks to WDNA’s Tom Morris for the tour!
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Next week: Fort Myers