Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
There are few places in the midwest as nicely scenic as Michigan’s western shoreline heading up along Lake Michigan, so it’s rather a shame that the August Saturday on which we made the drive was full of clouds and occasional bits of rain. But there were still towers to be seen and airchecks to be airchecked, and so off we went to see what we could find along US 31…
Heading out of Grand Rapids, our day began in Holland, the pretty little Dutch-themed town that sits just inland from the lakeshore along Lake Matacawa. The local AM here is WHTC (1450), which is paired with Saugatuck-licensed WYVN (92.7), sharing a studio and AM site that sits right next to Lake Matacawa at the north end of town.
Moving north on 31, we come next to Grand Haven, and while the towers of WGHN (1370) and WGHN-FM (92.1) elude us, the station’s studio is easy to find right on the lakefront.
We need to come back this way at some point to spend more time in and around Muskegon, where we don’t have time to go chasing a whole bunch of FM sites, but we do at least make it to the two remaining AMs in town: WGVS (850)’s six towers are now surrounded by housing south of town, while WKBZ (1090) has a single tower north of town.
After our too-quick stop in Muskegon, we continue north on 31 to Whitehall, where WKLQ (1490) and WWSN (97.7) share a tower just off the highway, and then to Ludington, where WKLA (1450) sits in an industrial area southeast of the pretty lakeside downtown.
WKLA’s old studios are easily seen here, too, right along the main drag into town (US 10, which connects to the Ludington ferry that crosses the lake to Manitowoc, Wisconsin) and just a few blocks north of the WKLA tower. (The calls? They come from former owner Karl L. Ashbacker, who lent his name to one of the more famous FCC cases to make it to the Supreme Court.)
Things were in a bit of disarray when we were in this part of Michigan last August – Synergy Broadcast Group, which owns WKLA, WKLA-FM (106.1), and several other area FMs, was in the midst of moving its studios from the Wallace Lane building shown above at right back into the old US 10 WKLA studios. It was also in the midst of swapping some of its signals on and off the air as it tried to avoid impending CP deadlines; in particular, it appeared that WLDN (98.7) was off the air so its antenna could be used by WKLA-FM. Synergy also owns rock WWKR (94.1 Hart), talk WMLQ (97.7 Manistee) and “Big Dog Country” WKZC (94.9 Scottville); the competition in town is nifty standalone WMOM (102.7 Pentwater).
Continuing north from Ludington up to Manistee, we pass a pair of towers on the east side of US 31 near the south end of Manistee Lake; these are home to WMLQ and another silent station, WMTE-FM (101.5 Manistee).
And when we go looking for the Manistee AM station, WMTE (1340), we find its licensed site is an empty construction pit – so we move on up US 31 as it bends east toward Interlochen and then north again into Traverse City.
The big tower action in this lovely resort town all happens in the hills west of town along M-72 (Traverse Highway), but before we go up there, we see the studio building of WLDR (101.9) right where M-72 meets Lakeshore Boulevard at the edge of downtown.
WLDR’s tower is the westernmost in the tower farm here, up on Gray Road just south of M-72.
The southern edge of the farm is anchored by WICA-FM (91.5), part of Interlochen College’s public radio network, on a tower off Harris Road about a mile southeast of WLDR.
Along M-72 itself, we find the studios of NBC affiliate WPBN (Channel 7) and its Upper Peninsula satellite WTOM (Channel 4, Cheboygan); this Nexstar station now also operates the market’s ABC affiliate (WGTQ channel 29 and U.P. satellite WGTU channel 8) under a shared-services deal. WPBN’s DTV tower, on RF 47, is way out east of here near Kalkaska, Michigan, on a tower shared with WGTQ and public broadcaster WCMV. What’s on the tower behind the WPBN studios? Public radio satellite WNMC (90.7) and “Bob” WZTC (104.5).
Just east of WPBN, where M-72 starts to drop down the hill into Traverse City, a driveway leads back uphill to religious broadcaster WLJN (1400) and WLJN-FM (89.9).
Across M-72 just south and east of WPBN is another FM, “Fox” WFCX (94.3 Leland), and from here we can also look south to WCCW-FM (107.5).
(Look carefully in the background of the WCCW-FM picture, looking northward, and you’ll see WFCX in the background, giving an idea of how closely spaced these towers are in the Traverse City tower farm.)
There’s one studio right in the heart of downtown Traverse City, and it’s a neat one: WTCM (580) and WTCM-FM (103.5) are the oldest stations in town, and their studio home along Front Street is part of the “Radio Centre” development, which includes upscale condos, restaurants and a parking garage.
Another studio complex on the south side of Traverse City is home to what’s now Blarney Stone Broadcasting, which includes “Fox” WFCX (94.3)/WFDX (92.5 Atlanta), “Rock Station” WKLT (97.5 Kalkaska)/WKLZ (98.9 Petoskey) and ESPN WSRT (106.7 Gaylord)/WSRJ (105.5 Honor).
Southwest of Traverse City, off Secor Road, we find the 1980s-vintage tower site of WTCM (580), built when owner Les Biederman relocated the AM station from its original home at 1400 on the dial (that’s now the WLJN site that we showed you above) over to this new home at the bottom of the dial. (WTCM has gradually crept up to 50,000 watts by day over the years.)
From here, we head east and then briefly south again on US 31, then on M-37 toward Cadillac. Sports WCCW (1310) has its four-tower array near Chums Corner and the local minor-league ballpark, and country WTCM-FM blasts its 100 kW across northern Michigan from a tower along M-37 just before it meets M-115 and we head into Cadillac – which is where we’ll continue this trip recap next week!
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
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 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 Michigan IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Medium Trip 2016, part III – Cadillac, Big Rapids and Mount Pleasant