Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In all of our years tramping around the country to visit radio and TV facilities, there are still a surprising number of markets we’ve simply never visited, for whatever reason. In addition to most of Texas, our gaps as of the summer of 2016 included several big swaths of the south, a set of omissions we tried to rectify with a week and a half on the road to and from the NAB Radio Show in Atlanta in late September.
We’ll spare you a bit of suspense: we didn’t get to a lot of the cities we’d hoped to visit because of a nasty coastal storm that cut our trip short as it became clear we weren’t going to make it to Charleston or Myrtle Beach, at least not in any kind of weather that lent itself to broadcast tourism.
But we did get to Richmond, Virginia for the first time on the way down to Atlanta, and then spent a bit of time there again in rather inclement weather on the storm’s edge on the way home.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at Richmond TV and radio – for that we’ll need to make another trip in better weather, and we will! – but we can at least showcase a few bits of broadcast history here, starting at the 843-foot self-supporting tower that’s a Richmond landmark along Broad Street west of downtown.
Built in 1953, this was the analog tower for the city’s first station. WTVR (Channel 6) signed on here in 1948 from a shorter tower as the TV sister to WMBG (1380), one of Richmond’s oldest radio stations. (As we learned from WTVR’s history page, the small Art Deco building still visible on the west side of the current WTVR complex is the original WMBG studio facility!)
WTVR-TV is now on RF 25 from a tower site even farther west (which we didn’t see on this trip), but former sister station WTVR-FM (98.1) still transmits from this self-supporter.
WTVR got TV company in the 1950s, first from WXEX (Channel 8, now WRIC-TV) 30 miles to the south in Petersburg and then from WRVA-TV (Channel 12) in Richmond. Channel 12 is now WWBT, operating from the same Midlothian Boulevard studio/tower site it’s occupied since day one back in 1956.
Back in town, there’s a mystery along Broad Street. Just a few blocks from the Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Avenue, we spot a one-bay FM antenna and what looks like an STL – but there’s nothing at all licensed to this location in the 1600 block of West Broad. Did we find a pirate?
Even though it’s a weekend when we make our first pass through town, we have an old Rochester friend in the market to be our tour guide, at least to his cluster: Joe Fleming used to be the chief engineer at Entercom’s stations up here, and now he has that role at Alpha Media’s four-FM Richmond cluster, housed in a suite in a suburban office park.
There are three formats among these four signals: WBBT (107.3 Powhatan) is the biggest, playing classic hits; country “Wolf” is heard on WLFV (98.9 Midlothian) in the Richmond market and simulcast to the south on WARV-FM (100.3 Petersburg); and classic country “Hank” is on west-side rimshot WWLB (93.1 Ettrick).
Alpha’s tower sites are similarly scattered: 98.9 (which we didn’t get to on this trip) is co-located with iHeart’s Richmond studios at the WRNL (910)/WRXL (102.1) site on the north side. WBBT is on a guyed tower in Midlothian, near two other tall towers that are mostly empty now. One holds an aux for WBTJ (106.5), while the other was the analog site of WRLH (Channel 35), the Fox affiliate that’s now a bit closer to town at a site shared with most of the rest of the digital TV in town.
WWLB’s class A facility on 93.1 is way out of town, out to the southwest on an old AT&T Long Lines tower in Matoaca, with a little extension at the top of the tower to hold the two-bay antenna for this signal, which was dropped into the market only in 2000.
And down in Petersburg, the WARV-FM tower sits behind a fire station south of the city, not far from where I-85 splits off from I-95, a key juncture for anyone headed south from the Northeast.
In our case, we headed down I-85, fighting gray skies and rain on the way to Atlanta by way of Raleigh, which is where we’ll meet you again for next week’s Site of the Week installment.
(Meanwhile, we’re already making plans to get back to Richmond soon for another installment of site visits in this market, where there’s obviously much more for us to see, including powerhouse WRVA 1140, which is in a fairly remote location southeast of the city.)
Thanks to Alpha’s Joe Fleming for the tours!
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Next week: A morning in Raleigh, N.C.