Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We may be past the days when we could embark on a full two-week-plus “Big Trip” to a dozen markets across a broad swath of America, but every once in a while we can still get away for a week or so to see how much radio and TV we can pack into a short time span. This week kicks off what we’ll call “Big Trip 2016,” wherein RadioInsight’s Lance Venta and I headed south from Washington, DC into the Carolinas. (You’ve already seen a preview when we posted pictures from VOA Site B and Wheatstone around NAB time last month…)
Just like the way every flight through the south seems to go through Atlanta, it’s hard to go south from DC without passing through Richmond.
And even though it was a Sunday afternoon, there was still some radio to be seen as we passed through, thanks to our old Rochester friend Joe Fleming, who was then the chief engineer for Alpha’s Richmond stations (and has since moved on to Saga in Charlottesville, which means there’s another Virginia trip in our future…)
We’d seen three of Joe’s four FM sites on our last pass through Richmond in 2015, so it made sense to meet up in Henrico, just northwest of downtown, to see the odd man out. Alpha’s WLFV (98.9 Midlothian) is one of three full-power FMs and a whopping seven translators that make their homes on the 749-foot guyed tower that sits behind the iHeart Media studios on Basie Road.
This is the historic site of WRNL (910), the radio station of the now-defunct Richmond News Leader, along with its sister FM station WRXL (102.1). WRNL is still here, running 5000 watts day and 1500 watts at night from the two shorter towers south of the big FM stick. Its old transmitter building has now been built out to become the studio for iHeart’s entire Richmond cluster, including WRNL’s longtime rival WRVA (1140), plus FM’ers WRVQ (94.5), WTVR (98.1) and WBTJ (106.5).
While the WRNL and WRXL transmitters are attached to the studio complex, the rest of the transmitters at the site are in a separate building by the FM tower (which now belongs to Vertical Bridge, the tower operator that bought this and many other sites from iHeart a while back).
There’s a long run of above-ground transmission line that brings WRXL out here; everyone else inside this building has a much shorter run to the tower right out back.
Inside the building, those three racks of translators in the middle belong to Liberty University’s W235AI (94.9, relaying WRXL’s HD3), Calvary’s W219CX (91.7, relaying KAWZ from Idaho) and Positive Alternative Radio’s W273BB (102.5, relaying WBTJ’s HD3).
Alpha’s WLFV has its pair of Harris transmitters in a cage toward the back of the room, while Radio One’s WCDX (92.1 Mechanicville) has a locked room near the front.
More translators? Yes, in abundance: iHeart’s W253BI (98.5 Glen Allen, country “Big 98.5” relaying WTVR’s HD2) shares a cage near the front of the room with iHeart STLs that aim out from here to the cluster’s other sites around the marketplace.
There are several more standalone racks in the room, too: Summit’s W291CL (106.1) is top-40 “Hot 106.1,” fed by the HD2 of WURV (103.7), while Virginia Tech’s W223AZ (92.5) gets public radio “Radio IQ” fed by WURV’s HD3.
We didn’t get inside anywhere else this Sunday afternoon, but the weather was much nicer this time around than on our previous visit, so we took some time to drive around to see more of Richmond’s other sites.
Out west of the city, just off Midlothian Turnpike (US 60), there’s a 745-foot guyed tower behind a mobile home park that has just one full-time occupant – Summit’s WURV (103.7) – and a whole bunch of auxiliary antennas. This site is the backup facility for all four of iHeart’s FMs, as well as the site for iHeart translator W241AP (96.1), which is classic rock “Planet” fed from WRVQ’s HD2. (The 103.7 frequency has a long history here, back to its days as classical WFMV starting in 1961; for a time, its studios were located in trailers out here.)
The appropriate address of “23 Sesame Street” is just a short drive down Robious Road from the 103.7 tower. In addition to being the studio site for public TV WCVE (Channel 23)/WCVW (Channel 57) and public radio WCVE (88.9), Sesame Street is also home to two big towers out back that carry most of the market’s TV signals.
Who’s up here now? WCVE (RF 42) and WCVW (RF 44), of course, as well as WCVE-FM and iHeart’s WBTJ (106.5, whose frequency once belonged to public radio WRFK, a predecessor of WCVE-FM). These towers are also home to most of the major commercial stations in the market: CBS affiliate WTVR (Channel 6/RF 25), ABC affiliate WRIC-TV (Channel 8/RF 22), Fox affiliate WRLH (Channel 35/RF 26) and a bunch of LPTVs, too.
We’ve shown you the WTVR studios on West Broad Street near downtown before, but it’s always worth a revisit to see all the history in this building (which started out as home to WMBG AM 1380) and the big self-supporter out back, which is still home to WTVR-FM on 98.1.
(You can recap all that history in our Richmond installment from last year’s visit…)
We also got a nice new shot of the WWBT (Channel 12) studio and transmitter facility on Midlothian Turnpike…which reminds us that one of these days, we’ll have to make another Richmond visit to get inside some of these venerable facilities, won’t we?
We’ll show you all of that fun – and some mightily tall towers – in next week’s installment.
Before we got there, though, we still had enough daylight for a stop just across the state line in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, where we headed just west of 95 to check out the studio and transmitter of WCBT (1230), which is, if nothing else, the bluest radio station we have ever seen.
Thanks to Joe Fleming for the tour!
And don’t miss a big batch of Richmond IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Big Trip ’16 – Raleigh, NC