Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
If you like very tall towers and don’t want to go to the midwest (where the very, very tallest ones live), the flat land of eastern North Carolina just might be the spot for you.
Can you tell the difference from ground level between a 2,063-footer and a mere 1,985-footer?
Me either – which is why it was plenty impressive to drive out to the rural countryside south of Greenville and Washington (and north of Kinston and New Bern) to the spot just east of Grifton, N.C. that’s been the home of TV in this region since way back in the mid-1950s.
The area’s first TV station, WNCT-TV (Channel 9), signed on in Greenville in 1953, using an 860-foot tower at the studio site it still calls home. WITN-TV (Channel 7) was next to air in 1955, putting up its own 800-footer at a site just across NC 118 from its present shared home with WNCT-TV.
This tower dates to 1979, when WITN-TV moved across the street from its old site (where it had meanwhile put up a 1500-foot tower) and WNCT-TV moved south from Greenville. At their new compound, WITN and WNCT built separate buildings adjoining the big tower’s base. Each building included space not only for TV but also for sister FM stations, which were then WITN-FM on 93.3 and WNCT-FM on 107.9 (moved from 107.7).
Over the years, things have shifted here a bit: WITN ended up on UHF channel 32, WNCT on VHF channel 10 after the digital transition. Antennas have gone up and come down (and some of them have remained inside the compound, as seen above at right). The FM stations have split from their TV sisters – WITN-FM 93.3 is now Alpha’s WERO, while WNCT-FM now belongs to Beasley. Yet they’ve stayed put in the buildings of their former TV partners. We didn’t get inside the WNCT building, but we got a nice look at WITN’s facility, nicely hardened against coastal storms. WERO is in a back room, where a newer Harris has supplanted the RCA New Line rig that matches its TV partner in WITN’s main TV room up front.
There’s lots of generator capacity here, and several rooms in front where transmitter staff can sleep and work if they get stuck here, which we’d imagine is not uncommon when weather gets nasty in these parts.
15 miles or so north in Greenville proper, we get some quick peeks at the local AM landscape during a brief lunch stop.
WOOW (1340) does black gospel from a storefront studio and a tower site that sits right in the middle of the Town Common park on the banks of the Tar River. Heavy rains just a few weeks before our February visit had, we’re told, put the parking lot and even the base of this tower underwater.
South of Greenville, WECU (1570 Winterville) is the newest AM in town. Mike Afflerbach’s CTC Media Group put this ESPN affiliate on the air in 2006 near the campus of its namesake Eastern Carolina University. This tower will someday also be home to sister station WNOS (1450), when it relocates north from New Bern.
The old WITN(AM) on 930 is now known as WDLX, and it’s part of a two-AM sports simulcast with WGHB (1250 Farmville) known as “The Pirate,” operating from a downtown Greenville studio around the corner from WOOW.
On a future Carolinas trip, we’ll have to revisit some Greenville and Washington sites we haven’t seen since a brief visit in 2003. (And we’ll have to see the new WITN-TV studios, which have replaced the 1955-vintage building we saw back then.)
On this trip, though, we’re now headed north, up US 17 to US 64 eastbound all the way to that route’s terminus on the scenic Outer Banks.
Before we get there, though, we pull off briefly on the side of 64 for a quick shot of what’s now just the tower for WPNC-FM (95.9 Plymouth). “Magic 95.9” is a fun little station, playing a surprisingly wide range of music with a personable afternoon jock in a studio that’s….somewhere else.
The empty building at the tower base apparently hasn’t been used since 2011, when the former WPNC(AM), a daytimer on 1470 that had changed calls to WJPI, went silent. It lives on now only through the folded unipole that’s still strung up the FM tower.
Just east of Plymouth, UNC-TV’s WUND-TV tower sits north of 64 near Columbia. WUND-TV (Channel 2/RF 20) changed city of license to Edenton a few years back to qualify for satellite and cable carriage up in the Norfolk, Virginia market, but its tower stayed put. It’s also home to a more recent arrival: WUND-FM (88.9 Manteo) relays WUNC-FM (91.5) from Chapel Hill.
On a chilly day in February, the tourist traps of the Outer Banks are mostly closed, and we’re running out of daylight to take in a quick view of the First Flight site, a surprisingly modest spot in Kitty Hawk. We also don’t get to see much in the way of towers on our way up toward a night in Norfolk; just a quick turn off US 258 northwest of Kitty Hawk to take in the tower of WCXL (104.1 Kill Devil Hills), and a promise to spend more time here in nicer weather.
Thanks to Mike Erickson and Digity/Alpha’s Al Cannon for the tour!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
Season two of “Top of the Tower” offered you several preview editions during the NAB Show last month in Las Vegas – and now we’re (finally!) back to regular weekly editions. Join host Scott Fybush and a wide variety of industry insiders every Wednesday for interesting conversation about what’s happening in the business of radio and TV, not to mention programming, engineering and the newsroom.
Find “Top of the Tower” on all your favorite podcast platforms or right here at fybush.com – and check out our Season 1 Archives, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Outer Banks IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Norfolk, VA