Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Here’s a free plug for the convention and visitors’ bureau in Nashville: Go visit Nashville! When the NAB and RAB announced their plans to hold the annual Radio Show there in September 2016, we knew we’d have a good time – but we didn’t know what a great time we’d have. The food is fantastic, the people are delightful, and of course the music is top-notch.
And more to the point, there’s a wealth of fascinating broadcast sites to be seen – and oh, did we get to see them during four days in town!
We met a lot of new friends during the show, but we started our broadcast tours over on the west side of town with an old friend, Doug Smith of WSMV (Channel 4). You may know Doug from his W9WI.com TV database, but in his day job he’s been an engineer here for two decades now.
This building on Knob Road was built in 1963 as the home to WSM television and radio, replacing the original WSM-TV studio at 15th Avenue South and Compton Avenue. In typical early-1960s broadcast fashion, the TV studios were large, and there were two of them. Windows from the lobby look down on one of the studios, which is still used for local news; the other one, toward the rear of the building, has been repurposed from an air studio into a spacious newsroom, with additions over the years providing more office and newsroom space.
The 6:00 news had just ended when we came by here on our first evening in town, so the facility was fairly quiet as we made our way around. The production control room is downstairs adjacent to the studios, and engineering wraps around the back of the building.
To the right of the lobby on the upper floor is where the WSM radio studios were located when both radio and TV called Knob Road home; after the stations were sold to separate owners in 1981, channel 4 soon became WSMV, while WSM radio went out to the Opryland USA campus northeast of the city. (We’ll get there later in our tour!)
Some of the radio space upstairs is now used for TV production and editing; there’s also a new studio complex up here that belongs to the late morning “Today in Nashville” lifestyles show, which had just debuted the week we visited. Compare this set design, if you will, to Meredith sister station KVVU in Las Vegas, which we saw in this space just a few weeks back – there’s clearly a similarity (as well there should be, since the KVVU lifestyle set is an impressive one!)
There’s no master control here; it’s hubbed – but there’s a big tower adjacent to the studio, and it’s actually the older piece of broadcast history here. In 1957, WSM-TV began construction on what was to be the tallest tower in the South, but it collapsed while being built, killing several workers, and rather than rebuild at that site in west Nashville, the station instead built a new tower at this more secluded location.
It may say “WSMV” on the front of the transmitter building here, but the linoleum inside still bears the original WSM-TV callsign. Turn right from the front door and you’re in the old analog TV transmitter room. Today, it’s home to the transmitter of Cumulus-owned WSM-FM (95.5), which was a relative FM latecomer – while WSM was an FM pioneer back in the early 1940s, it left the FM dial during the sluggish days of the early 1950s, then returned in 1968 with the purchase of 95.5, then WLWM. While WSM-FM was only co-owned with WSM-TV for 13 years, the transmitter stayed put here after the ownership split, and here it remains today.
WSMV’s digital operation on channel 10 sits behind windows across from the old analog transmitter space; downstairs, we find a room with leased space used by several smaller FMs.
That Harris transmitter on the left is WFCL (91.1), the classical station that’s now part of the WPLN public radio operation; for many years, it was Vanderbilt University’s WRVU. To the right, racks hold several translators – W227DC (93.3) is classic hits, fed by Bud Walters’ WQZQ (830); W235BW (94.9) is sports “The Game 2,” fed by an HD channel of Walters’ WBUZ (102.9); W271AB (102.1) is Walters’ “Light” gospel service, fed by an HD subchannel of WPRT (102.5) – and W279CL (103.7) relays “Radio Free Nashville” WRFN-LP (107.1).
The Walters translators and WFCL are all on the main WSMV tower, as is the aux (and former main site) of Cumulus’ WNFN (106.7); a short tower out back has the 103.7 antenna, and the building it sits next to was the analog transmitter site for Fox affiliate WZTV (Channel 17) before the DTV transition moved its signal elsewhere.
From here, it’s off to a country dinner that couldn’t be beat down at the Loveless Cafe in Belle Meade…and join us in next week’s installment as we look at the “Nash Campus,” an historic 50 kW AM site, and much more of our great week in Music City!
Thanks to Doug Smith for the tours!
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Next week: More Nashville!