Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Want to see all the TV towers in the Norfolk, Virginia market? It’s easy, really…just find your way out I-664 to the southwestern corner of the Hampton Roads Beltway, and then get off at Nansamond Parkway, VA 337, and head west.
(With one quick stop first before we head out to rural Driver, Virginia: shown above at left is the studio building for public broadcaster WHRO, north of downtown Norfolk on Hampton Boulevard across from Old Dominion University…)
WHRO’s tower is one of the newer ones in the Driver tower farm, a 1259-foot candelabra that went up in 2006 toward the west end of the farm adjacent to an older WHRO tower. The candelabra also became the DTV home for four other full-power TVs in the market: WTKR (Channel 3/RF 40), TBN’s WTPC (Channel 21/RF 7), My Network affiliate WTVZ (Channel 33/RF 33) and ion’s WPXV (Channel 49/RF 46). The older WHRO tower is still there next to the candelabra, supporting antennas for WHRO-FM (90.3) and WHRV (89.5); there are also aux antennas for Entercom’s FMs in the market here.
The westernmost towers in the farm belong to Media General’s NBC and Fox affiliates, WAVY-TV (Channel 10/RF 31) and WVBT (Channel 43/RF 29).
Their two sticks sit in close proximity on Kings Parkway (VA 125), just west of where Nansamond Parkway/VA 337 bends south toward the WHRO candelabra site.
Heading eastward again on Nansamond, back toward I-664, we pass three towers on the south side of the road.
ABC affiliate WVEC (Channel 13/RF 13) is at right in the lefthand shot above; at left is the old WTKR analog tower, which still has former FM sister WVKL (95.7) on it.
The easternmost tower in the farm is down a road that heads south just past the WVEC and old WTKR sites. This is the tower site of CW affiliate WGNT (Channel 27/RF 50), which was the old WYAH, the original flagship station of Pat Robertson’s CBN empire. Robertson also owned what’s now WNOH (105.3), which still has its transmitter in the building, too.
It’s a chance encounter with an engineer working out here that gets us inside the doors of the WTKR/WGNT studios back in downtown Norfolk, one of the most historic broadcast facilities still standing anywhere in the mid-Atlantic region. Look closely behind the tree in front of the Virginian-Pilot building next door and you’ll see an STL tower that replaced the original 1949-vintage transmission tower for what was then WTAR-TV (Channel 3), then and now the CBS affiliate for the region.
When this plant went up in 1949 at 720 Boush Street for WTAR radio and TV, it was as state-of-the-art as a broadcast facility could be. The Art Deco building boasted a lavish marble lobby that opened right into an auditorium studio that could be used for radio or TV, complete with control booths off to the side of the stage and a sponsor’s room overlooking the auditorium.
After a fairly recent renovation, that auditorium is still in use and still gleaming, from the stage right up to the old Kliegl Bros. scoop lights that still hang over the stage.
There’s another big ground-floor TV studio that we didn’t get to see, because it was in the midst of renovations for a new set installation, which we’ll have to check out when next we get to Hampton Roads.
Upstairs, there’s a control room for TV down the hall from the newsroom, which sits in an annex to the original 1949 building. Up another floor, we’re at the space where the WTAR radio studios originally sat. It’s been decades since WTAR radio moved out, leaving the renamed WTKR-TV behind – and now the old radio studio space is a hubbed master control for many of Local TV LLC’s markets, including WTKR and WGNT locally.
And up one more flight of stairs? There’s a rooftop deck with a nice view of the Norfolk skyline, including the site of the old TV tower on the newspaper building next door.
After WTAR-TV pioneered TV in the Tidewater region in 1949, it was four long years before a second station showed up in town – and when WVEC (1490) and WVEC-FM (101.3) spawned a TV sister in the fall of 1953, WVEC-TV was operating at the severe disadvantage of being on UHF channel 15.
Unlike most early UHFs, WVEC-TV not only survived, it eventually landed a move down the dial to VHF channel 13, where it landed in 1959. (By then, it had lost its original NBC affiliation to the market’s third station, Portsmouth-licensed WAVY-TV 10, which signed on in 1957 with ABC.)
While WVEC’s original studio building still stands in its city of license, Hampton, the station has long since moved to Norfolk, operating from a building down by the waterfront west of downtown that’s been expanded repeatedly over the years.
Walk inside, and the lobby opens right into the newsroom, which is in turn just down the hall from two studios. One is used for local production (that’s a weekend business show that was being taped on the Friday we stopped by), while the other is home to WVEC’s newscasts.
Control rooms are down the hall here, both the production control room and master control – WVEC, alone among the Big Four affiliates here in town, has a local master control that serves only its own channels. There’s an annex building, too, across the street, providing extra room for some of the marketing department and to house WVEC’s news vehicles.
For us, we’ve just scratched the surface of this fascinating market. We never did get across Hampton Roads to see the peninsula cities, including Newport News and Hampton, nor did we get to some of the other studio and tower sites on this side (including WAVY’s studio, on “Wavy Street” in Portsmouth!). And so we’ll definitely put the Tidewater high on our list of places to visit again sometime soon…
Thanks to WTKR’s Bill Sewell and Sperry Davis and WVEC’s Emily Mowers and Greg Brauer for the tours
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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.
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Next week: Salisbury, Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula