Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Our August 2016 “Medium Trip” across Michigan came to an end over two days in the state’s biggest market, giving us a chance to see a whole bunch of Detroit-area sites we’d never gotten into on previous visits.
Driving down from Flint on a Monday afternoon, our first stop was a nice group lunch for a bunch of current and former Detroit engineers (and “Radio’s Best Friend,” Art Vuolo!), followed by a whirlwind afternoon of station visits that began in the Oakland County suburbs north of the city.
Just off the big I-696/I-275/M-5 interchange in Farmington Hills, iHeart finally consolidated all of its Detroit-market studios a few years ago in a building on Halsted Road just south of 12 Mile Road. If you look at maps of the area, the driveway into the building shows up as “A & W Drive,” and that’s because this building was originally the corporate headquarters and warehouse for the fast-food chain.
The studios here are all in a neat row upstairs, overlooking a big live performance space in the former warehouse at the rear of the building. The studios are arranged in pods that each include an air studio, a producer/call screener room and a production room. WJLB (97.9) is one of the two urban stations here, taking a more contemporary sound than its rhythmic AC sister, WMXD (Mix 92.3). WDTW-FM (106.7) is the rock station, WKQI (95.5) does top 40, WNIC (100.3) is AC and WDFN (1130) is the sports AM station rounding out the cluster.
The iHeart studios sit just a bit west and north of the tower farm that sprawls across southern Oakland County.
We didn’t get to all the towers out here this time (that will have to await a future trip), but we did get inside one of the oldest sites in the farm.
The sixth-oldest TV station in the country, WWDT (Channel 4) signed on from the Detroit News for one day in 1946, returned for good in early 1947, changed its calls to WWJ-TV a few months later – and in 1954 it dedicated a 1000-foot tower in what was then the rural outpost of Southfield, off Greenfield Road between 10 Mile and 11 Mile.
Since 1978, channel 4 has been WDIV, and today its transmitter (now on RF 45 in the digital era) still sits at that same 1954 site, now tucked tightly between a strip mall on one side and I-696 on the other.
Just east of the WDIV site across Greenfield Road, we can see over to two more FM sticks in the farm – the self-supporter of WKQI that rises above the station’s former studios, and the nearby guyed tower that’s home to WDRQ (93.1), WDMK (105.9) and an aux for WDVD (96.3).
The old channel 4 Harris analog setup, silent since 2009, still sits in the first room you see when you walk in the brick transmitter building. Behind it, a bit of history lives on in the form of CBS Radio’s all-sports WXYT-FM (97.1), which is the successor to the old WWJ-FM. (Just to add to the fun, WWJ 950 and 97.1, then WJOI, spent quite a while as studio tenants of channel 4’s competitor WJBK-TV 2 in Southfield; what’s more, the WXYT calls come from sister station WXYT 1270, which is the descendant of another erstwhile WWJ competitor, ABC-owned WXYZ!)
WDIV’s current digital transmitter sits in another room here, carrying NBC programming not only to southeast Michigan but also to a big chunk of Canada via the satellite uplink that picks it up from here.
Our next stop takes us from the suburbs across the city line into Detroit, where we make a beeline for the “New Center” area where Grand Boulevard meets Woodward Avenue, the city’s north-south axis.
It’s here that we find “The Golden Tower of the Fisher Building,” which has been home for almost 90 years to WJR (760).
We take a moment to admire the extravagance of the building’s lobby and entryway before heading to the gilt elevator doors and up to WJR’s current digs on the seventh and eighth floor. The current Cumulus studios here are one of several spaces WJR has occupied over the years; originally up on the 28th floor, the station later moved to the 21st floor (where we saw it in the early 1990s), and then downstairs a decade or so ago.
The main WJR studio is an impressive space, befitting a big clear-channel AM signal; it looks into several smaller studios and a control room that’s still equipped with a classic PR&E console.
The Cumulus FM signals are on the seventh floor: WDVD (96.3) is the original WJR-FM, which once even had its transmitter on the roof (the antenna bays are still there, but long since out of use), and today it’s a top-40 competitor to iHeart’s WKQI and CBS Radio’s WDZH (AMP 98.7).
WDRQ (93.1) was itself top-40 back in the day, later did variety hits as “Doug FM” and is now the Detroit outlet of Cumulus’ NASH country network. Both FMs have multiple production and air studios along the hallway here, and from the windows we get a nice southward view toward downtown Detroit and the Detroit River.
Those two self-supporters that appear to be flanking the Renaissance Center in the photo above at right? Those are the city’s public radio stations, WDET (101.9) from Wayne State University and WDCJ (90.9), formerly of the Detroit Public Schools and now operated by Detroit public TV station WTVS.
What about WJR’s transmitter? That visit came later on this August afternoon, and you’ll see it (and more) in next week’s Site of the Week…
Thanks to iHeart’s Randall Auerbach, WDIV’s Bill Magliocco and Cumulus’ Keith Bosworth for the tours!
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Next week: More Detroit, 2016