Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
In this week’s installment of Site of the Week, we continue our “Medium Trip 2016” recap with the Cadillac of station visits…because, of course, our loop around Michigan has at this point taken us from Traverse City south and east to the lovely lakeside town of Cadillac, Michigan.
Cadillac also happens to be home to one of our favorite small-town stations. WCDY (107.9 McBain) signed on here at the end of 2010, and if it sounds a little more polished than a typical class A playing hits, it’s because the station’s owner, Jen Theodore, is married to veteran programmer Dom Theodore. Dom’s recruited some great talent to help make the station sound great.
When we visited, WCDY had recently moved to a new studio on the south side of town, just off the M-55 exit from US 131. It’s a compact but functional space, with an air studio in one back corner, a production studio just across from it, and another studio down the hall that was being fitted for what eventually became a sister station, WCKC (107.1 Cadillac). WCKC had been part of a three-station rock simulcast as “The Bear,” but split off under Theodore’s ownership late in 2016 as classic rock “The Drive.”
The commercial competition in town is MacDonald Garber Broadcasting, which has its studios and AM tower along Mackinaw Trail just south of Lake Cadillac.
The heritage station here is talker WATT (1240), which has been in town since 1946; its FM sisters with studios here are sports WKAD (93.7 Harrietta) and country “Bull” WLXV (96.7 Cadillac).
The shared WCDY/WCKC tower sits just off County Line Road, visible (but tricky to access) from M-115, the main road leading southeast from Cadillac.
Back in the day, there was another commercial AM competitor in town – WKJF (1370) eventually ended up in the hands of Traverse City’s religious WLJN, and today it’s WLJW, still transmitting from a three-tower array near the south shore of Lake Cadillac.
How about TV around here? Our trip begins on a downtown side street, where a converted garage is home to the interesting little “minews26” operation. This is WMNN-LD, which leverages a small staff and big technology to bring an all-news wheel to TV up here.
From what’s essentially three rooms – a newsroom, a compact studio next door and an even more compact control room off the studio – “minews26” produces a half-hour newswheel that’s updated several times a day, augmented by syndicated programming at night and a roster of subchannels that includes Antenna TV, Laff, Escape, Grit and BUZZR.
There’s more established commercial competition to minews here, too, of course. Last week, we showed you the Traverse City TV studios that are home to NBC “7&4” WPBN and its Upper Peninsula simulcast WTOM, along with shared-services partner ABC “29&8” WGTQ/WGTU. The CBS and Fox stations in this sprawling market have their studios south of M-115 at the tower of the CBS station, WWTV (Channel 9). (Its Upper Peninsula partner is WWUP, channel 10, and so this too is a hyphenate as “TV 9&10.”)
WWTV is the oldest station in the market; it signed on back in 1954 on channel 13 but moved to channel 9 in 1962 to make room for WZZM to use channel 13 in Grand Rapids. Its current tower, at just over 1600 feet, is the tallest in Michigan.
In recent years, 9&10 have picked up a Fox shared-services partner. WFQX (Channel 32) uses a tower just up 130th Avenue from the WWTV facility; it too has a simulcast in the UP, WFUP (Channel 45).
Not long after our visit, WWTV/WWUP and WFQX/WFUP moved their studios from the WWTV tower to a renovated building just off the US 131 bypass.
That’s one reason for us to come back; another is the latest addition to the Theodores’ Up North Radio cluster. About 30 miles south of Cadillac in Big Rapids, they recently put WBZX (103.9) on the air with an 80s format as “B103.9,” with studios on the north end of State Street, the main drag in town.
Keep going south on State Street and you get to the established cluster in town: this site is the transmitter of news-talk WBRN (1460) and “Big Country” WWBR (100.9), and also the studio of sister hot AC “Y102” WYBR (102.3).
From here, our Sunday morning in August took us south to the college town of Mount Pleasant. On the edge of the Central Michigan University campus sit the towers shared by public radio WCMU (89.5) and its campus sister station WMHW (91.5). WMHW actually operates two signals – AAA “The Mountain” on 91.5 and rhythmic contemporary “The Beat” on 91.5 HD2 and a 101.1 translator, W266BU.
Mount Pleasant’s commercial dial has shrunk in recent years; commercial station WCEN (1150) went dark, its FM sister WCEN-FM (94.5) relocated eastward to Hemlock to better serve the Midland-Bay City-Saginaw area, and that left only classic hits WCZY (104.3) and talk WMMI (830 Shepherd) in town. We saw the WMMI tower as we headed out of Mount Pleasant along the US 127 business loop, but couldn’t get to a good spot for a photo.
In our next installment, we’ll head east, too, continuing our Sunday excursion into Midland, Bay City, Saginaw and Flint.
Thanks to Mike Erickson and minews26’s Eric Wotila for the tours!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss a big batch of Michigan IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Midland, Bay City, Saginaw and Flint, summer 2016