Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our recap of our late-August swing through Michigan continues this week with a busy Sunday afternoon and early evening that found us headed eastward and then southward from Big Rapids towards an overnight near Flint.
As we headed into Midland for a Great Lakes Loons ballgame, we made a quick unplanned stop to see the studio building and STL tower of WUGN (99.7 Midland), part of Family Life Radio’s religious network.
And as we enjoyed a mostly-sunny Sunday in the stands at the Dow Diamond, there was radio on our minds, too – the Diamond is also home to ESPN affiliate WLUN (100.9 Pinconning), which not only broadcasts the Loons’ Midwest League games but happens to be co-owned with the team!
The team staff was happy to accommodate our last-second request for a peek at the station’s facilities after the game, so we headed up to suite level, where the WLUN studios occupy a small cluster of offices right behind the broadcast booth overlooking home plate.
The WLUN tower is up north of Midland near Pinconning itself, which sits on the western shore of Saginaw Bay; we didn’t head up there because we were instead out to see as many towers as we could in the Midland-Bay City-Saginaw area before another summer storm rolled through.
Midland’s AM station, WMPX (1490), has its tower behind its Bayliss Street studios just off Business US-10 east of downtown; WMPX simulcasts AC “Sunny 97” WMRX (97.7 Beaverton).
There’s not much actual broadcast to see in Bay City, at the southern end of Saginaw Bay some 20 miles east of Midland; the lone AM that was licensed here was on 1250, and it’s slid somewhat southward these days as Catholic WHHZ, now licensed to Bridgeport and broadcasting from a three-tower site off US 23 south of Saginaw. (You can see it below at right.)
This 1250 facility spent some time as WNEM(AM), tied in with Meredith-owned CBS affiliate WNEM-TV (Channel 5); though it’s licensed to Bay City, we find WNEM’s studio in downtown Saginaw, a city that’s surely seen better days along the way.
On the south side of Saginaw is WSAM (1400) and its sister FM station, WKCQ (98.1), with a newer studio building in front of what looks like an older transmitter-studio building.
The WSAM tower here almost became the WNEM-TV transmitter tower once upon a time early on; instead, WNEM-TV built a tall tower east of Saginaw near Indiantown, Michigan, where we now find a three-tower farm that we reach just as the storm starts rolling toward us.
The two northernmost towers in the farm are in close proximity: one is the newest TV signal in the sprawling Saginaw-Flint-Bay City market, CW affiliate WBSF (Channel 46), which signed on in 2006 as a sister station to NBC affiliate WEYI (Channel 25). Today, WEYI’s NBC programming is seen on WBSF’s 46.2, while WBSF is seen on WEYI’s 25.2 for better coverage of the entire region.
Right next door on Becker Road is WIOG (102.5 Saginaw), which began as WNEM-FM and was later AC WGER. In 1986, WGER swapped formats and calls with then-WIOG (106.3), putting WIOG’s top-40 format on this big 86 kW signal that’s arguably the best in the market.
WNEM-TV, meanwhile, has its tower on the south side of Becker Road; the building in front of the tower served as a studio for a time, though it’s now home to a boat-building company.
Just east of the TV tower farm along Uncle Henry Road, we get several views of the six-tower array of WSGW (790 Saginaw), which signed on here in 1950. With 5 kW by day, 1 kW at night, WSGW is the big news-talker in the market. These days, it’s part of an Alpha Media cluster along with semi-simulcast WSGW-FM (100.5 Carrollton), AC WGER, urban AC “Kiss” WTLZ (107.1 Saginaw) and country WCEN-FM (94.5 Hemlock, which moved in from Mount Pleasant a few years back).
If we’d had more time and better weather, we could have headed a few miles north and east from here to see the tower site of the region’s main PBS station, Delta College’s WDCQ (Channel 19/RF 15). There’s an interesting history here – in the analog era, Delta had two signals, WDCQ (ex-WUCM) on channel 19 from its main campus in University Center, between Bay City and Flint, and WDCP (ex-WUCX) on channel 35 from Bad Axe, east of here in Michigan’s “Thumb.” With the advent of digital, Delta combined the stations, keeping the WDCP license and RF channel 15 but putting the WDCQ calls and virtual channel 19 on the signal from a new site up near Gilford, Michigan.
We did take a few minutes along the way to drive through the Delta campus to see the old WDCQ analog 19 tower, which still sits here unused. Those FM bays belonged to the WUCX-FM (90.1 University Center), which is now a joint operation between WDCQ/Delta and Central Michigan University’s WCMU; the WUCX-FM main transmitter is now also out in Gilford at the WDCQ digital site.
Now we’re headed south of Saginaw, where our overnight stop off I-75 near the Birch Run outlet mall happens to be just north of the WEYI (Channel 25) studio/transmitter site on Willard Road in Clio.
WEYI/WBSF are quasi-sisters these days to Fox affiliate WSMH (Channel 66), with Sinclair owning WSMH, Howard Stirk Holdings serving as the licensee of WEYI and Cunningham Broadcasting as the licensee of WBSF. There’s a separate WSMH studio facility on the north side of Flint, though newscasts come from WEYI.
By now, it’s Monday morning and we take a quick spin around the edges of Flint to see how the city’s AM signals have changed since our last visit here way back in 1999.
On the east edge of town, WFLT (1420) was doing religion from its two-tower array, which we missed last time around.
Just south of there is the transmitter site of WWCK (1570) and WWCK-FM (105.5); if memory serves, this was still an active studio back in ’99.
And that brings us to Burton Road, where what was once a stretch of three adjacent DAs is now down to two. WFDF (910) moved south to the Detroit market in the early years of the 21st century; it was Radio Disney for a while and then was sold to Adell Broadcasting, which runs a black talk format there from an eight-tower array that aims north through Detroit and is still quite audible up here in Flint.
WTRX (1330) still anchors the eastern end of the tower farm on Burton Road, just down the street from the Townsquare studios and three-tower site of news-talk WFNT (1470). Stations with studios here include “Cars 108” WCRZ (107.9 Flint), “Banana 101.5” (WWBN Tuscola) and “Club 93.7” (WRCL Frankenmuth), along with two stations in Lapeer, out to the east, WQUS (103.1) and WLCO (1530).
And our final stop before heading south on US 23 toward Detroit is out to the southwest of Flint. When we’d visited WSNL (600) back in 1999, the heritage station (ex-WTAC) was still located at its historic site due south of Flint, but that site was getting prepped for redevelopment.
WSNL’s current site on Grand Blanc Road was licensed with its current 440-watt day/250-watt night facilities in 2006, and despite the limited wattage, it covers quite nicely back in to Flint with its religious format.
Thanks to the Great Lakes Loons for the tour!
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 mid-Michigan IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Detroit, August 2016