Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Sometimes our radio trips include lots of in-depth exploration inside studios and tower sites. Sometimes, our schedule forces us to just spend a quick night in a new market before moving along. That, alas, was the case with our early March stop along Florida’s Treasure Coast.
That’s the tourism-department-approved nickname for the stretch of relatively lightly populated communities along the Atlantic coast between Melbourne (as seen in this space in 2013) and Palm Beach County. 80 miles or so of coast spread out among three counties. We started our Sunday morning drive at the northern end of the market, in Vero Beach, county seat of Indian River County.
There was no radio here at all until 1954, when two signals popped up within months of each other. WTTB (1490) was first on, in June, followed in November by daytimer WAXE (1370).
WTTB is still WTTB to this day, operating as part of Vero Beach Broadcasters, a cluster that includes several FMs that came later. WGYL (93.7 Vero Beach) started out on 93.5 as a class A signal in 1970 and upgraded to a 50 kW C2 two decades later. WOSN (97.1 Indian River Shores) came along in the 1990s as a C3; among other things, it’s the Florida radio home of the legendary Herb Oscar Anderson. WPHR (94.7 Giffords) is another 1990s drop-in, a C2 that had the WSYR-FM calls for a few years when it was owned by Clear Channel. And WJKD (99.7 Vero Beach) does “Jack FM”; it’s yet another 1990s drop-in. The stations all share studios on 16th Street, just west of US 1 and just south of downtown Vero Beach, such as it is.
Clear Channel/iHeart still owns stations on the Treasure Coast, but only one is still in Vero Beach. That’s WZTA (1370), with a tower located straight down Old Dixie Highway from the Vero Beach Broadcasters studio. The WZTA calls are just warehoused up here so nobody can use them in their historic home of Miami; on-air, 1370 still goes by the same “WAXE” identity (except at the top of the hour) that it’s used since the 1950s. The WGYL tower is right next to WZTA at this transmitter site next to the city waste transfer station; look up above at the wide shot of this site and you’ll also see the tower for W300BQ (107.9), the WZTA/”WAXE” translator.
WTTB’s short tower is north and west of here, out off the end of 31st Avenue. And as we head back to US 1 south to move along to Fort Pierce, we pass the WPHR (94.7) tower, just adjacent to a big patch of construction on the south side of Vero Beach.
It’s about 20 miles south to Fort Pierce, in the heart of St. Lucie County, the first community on the Treasure Coast to get radio back in the 1940s. (Which is also two decades before anyone called it the “Treasure Coast,” but we digress.)
What’s now WJNX (1330 Fort Pierce) is the only directional AM in the market, with 5000 watts by day and 1000 watts at night from its two-tower transmitter/studio site on Metzger Road, northwest of downtown Fort Pierce. This was WARN when it signed on in 1952, and it has operated under several calls since then. This building is also the studio for WPSL (1590 Port St. Lucie), about which we’ll see more soon.
WIRA (1400) was the very first radio station in the region when it signed on in 1946. Its signal comes from a tower on 37th Street, not far south of 1330’s site and not far north of Okeechobee Road, one of the main east-west drags in the area. This tower site is also home to noncommercial urban station WJFP (91.1), which uses translators to extend its signal northward to Melbourne, southward to West Palm Beach and westward to the Lake Okeechobee area. (Another big translator user, Reach FM, has a translator on 95.1 here to relay its flagship signal, WREH 90.5 Cypress Quarters, near Okeechobee.)
[We should note here that Fort Pierce once had several powerful commercial FMs, but the gravitational pull of Palm Beach County has dragged them south: WIRA’s former sister FM on 95.5, WOVV, once ran 100 kW from this site, but it’s now WLDI, licensed to Juno Beach and operating from West Palm Beach studios. Another Fort Pierce FM, the former WLQY (98.7), was relicensed to Wellington and is now WKGR, an iHeart sister station to WLDI.]
A quick jog south to Virginia Avenue gets us to Indian River State College and its public radio station, WQCS (88.9).
While the former Fort Pierce frequencies of 95.5 and 98.7 now run from West Palm Beach, there’s still an iHeart presence on the Treasure Coast: country WAVW (92.7 Stuart) has its tower behind the studios in Port St. Lucie, just east of US 1 as it wends its way south from Fort Pierce to Stuart. This building also houses studios for the Vero Beach stations, news-talk WZTA (“WAXE”), oldies WQOL (103.7) and WCZR (101.7), which simulcasts hot talk WZZR from West Palm Beach.
WPSL (1590 Port St. Lucie) is just a bit north of here up US 1, with a single tower just east of the highway. This AM daytimer was also a late addition to the dial, dating back only to 1985.
This is the land of the strip mall, and strip malls along US 1 are where we find several of the smaller players on the radio scene as we make our way southward toward Stuart and Martin County, the southern end of the Treasure Coast market.
WFLM (104.7 White City) is an urban voice that serves Fort Pierce from a tower site on the west side of town (out near I-95 and Florida’s Turnpike) and studios along US 1 in Port St. Lucie.
WHLG (101.3 Port St. Lucie) plays soft AC as “Coast 101.3” from studios in a strip mall on the west side of US 1 as it approaches the big bridge that carries it over the St. Lucie River and into the (relatively) historic town of Stuart.
WHLG’s antenna sits on a tower shared with Stuart’s AM talk station, WSTU (1450), just north of the bridge and just across the river from Stuart.
And from here, everything else has been sucked southward into the West Palm Beach market: while there are FMs licensed to the Martin County communities of Indiantown (WIRK 103.1), Hobe Sound (WOLL 105.5) and Jensen Beach (WMBX 102.3), they’re really Palm Beach County signals, transmitting from a tower farm off I-95 near the Martin/Palm Beach county line.
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Next week: Palm Beach County, Florida (part I)