Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the most exciting parts of our early 2016 Big Trip in the Mid-Atlantic states was the chance to add a significant new market to this site that we’d never visited before.
Norfolk, Virginia isn’t exactly on the way to anywhere, unless perhaps you’re headed to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, or returning home from a naval enlistment. But thanks in part to the Navy, it’s a thriving market full of interesting sights and stations, and we packed a lot of them into a single day in early March.
Heading up toward downtown Norfolk from our overnight stop in south suburban Chesapeake, we crossed several branches of the Elizabeth River on the way into Portsmouth and then Norfolk.
Along the way, we passed several of the FM sites that dot the Portsmouth area: Entercom’s WPTE (94.9) and iHeart’s WMOV (107.7) sit right by the interchange where the South Norfolk Jordan bridge hits I-464, the north-south highway down into Chesapeake. Bible Broadcasting’s WYFI (99.7) sits a bit to the north, close to the eastern branch of the Elizabeth.
Just east of the WYFI tower on Indian River Road, Saga’s WJOI (1230) and WNOR (98.7) share a tower next to Riverside Memorial Park – and this one, we get to see inside!
WJOI’s BE AM transmitters sit in the outer room of this two-room transmitter facility, across from STL and processing for both the standards AM station and its FM rock sister, WNOR (98.7). WNOR has its transmitter in the back room.
Back to Saga: its studios are located in a Chesapeake office park, with a lobby and studio windows easily visible from the shiny atrium.
This is a relatively small cluster, but with some big, big signals: in addition to standards WJOI (entirely automated) and rocker WNOR, it’s also home to classic rock WAFX (106.9), where middayer Mike Arlo has been on the air since 1996 – and before that, for 21 more years at other Norfolk-market stations. Yup, that’s 40-plus years in all…how many DJs these days can beat that?
One more on this side of town: back by the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, just a bit south of its eastern landing, I-464 goes by the squat little tower that’s shared by three AMs: religious WPCE (1400), WCPK (1600) and its expanded-band sister, WHKT (1650).
Across the Elizabeth River on the east side of Norfolk, halfway to Virginia Beach, we find iHeart’s studios in a low-slung building in a shopping area called Norfolk Square. There are four FMs here, all of them aiming at segments of the urban/CHR audience: WHBT (92.1) is licensed down in Moyock, North Carolina, playing classic hip-hop; WOWI (102.9) is the market’s heritage urban station; WNOH (105.3) is “Now,” the mainstream CHR in the cluster; and WMOV (107.7) is “Movin'” with classic R&B.
This rack room includes a surprise: a BE FM transmitter that can serve as a backup if any of the far-flung sites in this cluster go off the air. Down the hall, nearly-identical studios sit behind a glass door, with WOWI (“103 Jamz”) getting pride of place in the corner.
Our last studio stop on this trip is at Max Media’s five-station cluster, in an office park off I-64 on its way out to Virginia Beach.
This cluster includes ESPN outlet WVSP (94.1), broadcasting from way up near Yorktown, across the outlet of the James River on the peninsula that narrows down to Newport News and Hampton.
We didn’t have time on this trip to take the bridge or tunnel over to that side of the market, which meant we missed out on some neat AM sites, including the two biggest AMs in town, Sinclair Telecable’s WNIS 790 and WTAR 850.
We also missed out on the tower shared by the three-letter calls in the Max cluster: WGH (1310) and WGH-FM (97.3). The Newport News-licensed signals carry standards (“Star 1310”) on the AM side and country (“97.3 the Eagle”) on the FM side.
The line of spacious studios along the outer wall here at Max Media also includes classic hits WVBW (92.9 the Wave) and CHR WVHT (Hot 100.5); the inner hallway, in turn, is lined with production rooms.
There’s more radio to see next time we get to Norfolk – not only those tower sites in Newport News and Hampton but also the other two big radio clusters in town, locally-owned Sinclair Telecable (WNIS, WTAR, WNOB “Bob 93.7,” WROX “96X” and WUSH “US 106”) and Entercom (WPTE, WVKL “95.7 R&B”, WWDE “2WD” 101.3 and WNVZ “Z104”), not to mention more tower sites that we didn’t get to.
And there’s some cool TV history here, too, which we’ll show you in next week’s installment.
Thanks to iHeart’s Keith Kinney and Michael “EZ” Graves, Saga’s Don Crowder and Max Media’s Paul Campbell for the tours!
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Next week: Norfolk TV, 2016