Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the highlights of our spring 2016 Big Trip was the chance to hang out for a few days with some of our favorite radio friends who’ve migrated from New York and Long Island to eastern North Carolina – and along the way, to see some of the radio sights in this sprawling, very flat coastal landscape. (We’ve already shown you a preview in April, when we featured the VOA Site B facility in Greenville and the Wheatstone factory in New Bern.)
“Eastern North Carolina” is something of a marketing and ratings construct, encompassing a swath of small cities from Washington and Greenville in the north to Kinston and New Bern in the middle to Jacksonville in the south, and, beyond, the separate Wilmington market at the southern end of the North Carolina coast.
Our trip centered on New Bern, where our pal “Big Tom” Lawler is the afternoon voice of WRNS-FM (95.1 Kinston), part of the big cluster that was just in the process of going from Dean Goodman’s Digity group to Alpha Media when we stopped by. (The name may change, but the wall of guest signatures in the lobby will remain!)
The L-shaped array of (nearly identical) studio pods arranged around a rack room here is home to CHR “Bob 93.3” (WERO Washington), country WRNS-FM (95.1 Kinston)/WRNS (960 Kinston), country “Wolf” simulcast WQSL (92.3 Jacksonville)/WQZL (101.1 Belhaven), rock WXQR (105.5 Jacksonville) and standards WANG (1330 Havelock, which is just an automation computer in the rack room for now.)
WRNS moved here to New Bern a decade or so ago from its original Kinston home, and today that facility on the south side of Kinston is just the AM transmitter site, plus a lot of ghosts.
This building was a pretty classy place when it was first built, right down to the metal plaques mounted on brick pillars on either side of the driveway, proclaiming the calls of “WRNS” for the FM side and the original AM calls of “WFTC” on the other side.
Inside now, there are studios for AM and FM that look much as they did the day the stations left for New Bern, give or take some cobwebs and an artist stand-up left behind in the hallway that leads back to the old studios. (Remember Mila Mason? We didn’t…)
The AM station, which was being fixed the day we showed up, still runs off a vintage Gates transmitter in back. Long before FM moved to a tall tower north of here, it operated from one of the two AM towers, and its old Harris transmitter still sits in a building next to the tower.
(960, by the way, is one of three AMs in the small city of Kinston; there’s also WWMC on 1010, long known as WELS, and on 1230, there’s WLNR, which has its tower along Highway 70 just a short drive away from the WRNS site.)
We didn’t get to see much of Jacksonville, half an hour south of here, but a dinner stop down there at least let us peek at the studio building for WAVQ (1400) in the dark.
We’ll need to go back at some point to see that – as well as the rest of Jacksonville and down to Wilmington and beyond.
Back in New Bern, we take some quick swings past the city’s other stations. WNOS (1450) has its one tower next to its old studios right off the US 17 bypass on the southwest side of town – but not for long, since it has a CP to move north to Winterville, near Greenville. Its sister station, WWNB (1490), is north of downtown near the west bank of the Neuse River, right behind the studios of the Beasley Broadcast Group cluster from which the AM signal was spun off some years back.
Beasley’s stations in the market include Greenville-licensed WNCT (1070, doing “Beach, Boogie and Blues” on a network of translators) and classic hits WNCT-FM (107.9), as well as rock WXNR (99.5 Grifton), urban WIKS (101.9 New Bern), hot AC WMGV (103.3 Newport) and classic rock WSFL (106.5 New Bern).
ABC affiliate WCTI (Channel 12) has its studios next door to the Beasley studios and right in front of the WWNB tower. (NBC in the market comes from Washington’s WITN and CBS from Greenville’s WNCT-TV; we’ll see their tower sites next week.)
Downtown New Bern sits on the Neuse River waterfront, and in addition to that scenery, it occupies an important place in junk food history – it was in a drugstore here that Caleb Bradham concocted what was originally “Brad’s Drink” and is now better known as Pepsi. There’s a museum and soda counter in the old drugstore space, and this is one of just two places you can get “Caleb’s Kola,” a revival of Bradham’s original formula. (Tasty!)
We wrap up our visit to New Bern out at Craven Community College on the city’s west side, where we find Public Radio East, the region’s public radio broadcaster. (Public TV out here comes from the statewide UNC-TV network.)
PRE occupies part of the first floor of Barker Hall on the college campus, with offices on one side of a hallway and a compact studio/technical core in the middle of the floor.
PRE operates two networks across the region: classical music and the NPR newsmagazines air on flagship WTEB (89.3), broadcasting from a tower right on the edge of the campus, while a full-time news service airs on a newer, lower-powered signal, WZNB (88.5), lower down on the WTEB tower, as well as on WKNS (90.3 Kinston), WBJD (91.5 Atlantic Beach) and a Greenville translator at 88.1.
Thanks to Mike Erickson, “Big Tom” Lawler, Digity/Alpha’s Al Cannon and the staff of Public Radio East for the tours!
And don’t miss a VERY big batch of eastern North Carolina IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: The Outer Banks and on to Norfolk