Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Sometimes, we get to hit the road purely for the fun of spending entire days visiting broadcast facilities – and sometimes, we’re on the road for other aspects of our employment. So it was in January, when a week’s travel to eastern North Carolina was mostly spent inside the Wheatstone factory in New Bern (you saw it in some detail in this Site of the Week installment last year), hosting videos that you can (and should!) check out on Wheatstone’s website.
But one night, we were able to break away at the end of the day and spend a little time visiting some of the broadcast facilities we’d missed in our 2016 visit to the region, starting with a tour of the stations that were then owned by Beasley Broadcast Group. (Two weeks after our January visit, they were transferred to new owner Curtis Media in a deal that closed in May.)
This cluster came together over the last decade or so in a low-slung building on Glenburnie Drive north of downtown New Bern, in what had originally been the home of just one of these stations, “Kiss” WIKS (101.9).
There’s lots of broadcasting going on here in what’s otherwise a quiet residential neighborhood: the tower of WWNB (1490), which isn’t part of this cluster anymore, sits in the grass behind the Beasley parking lot, a relic of long-ago days in the 1970s and 1980s when 1490 (as WRNB) was paired with 101.9, then known as WAZZ.
The studios of ABC affiliate WCTI (Channel 12) and Fox affiliates WFXI/WYDO (Channels 8/14), also unrelated, are right next door, too.
The studios for four of Beasley’s five stations in the extended Greenville-Washington-New Bern market are right here in a line along the back of the building: classic rocker WSFL-FM (106.5 New Bern) is back in one corner, while modern rock WXNR (99.5 Grifton) and AC WMGV (103.3 Newport) face each other across the back hallway that leads to the tech core by the back door.
The king of the hill here, though, is the original station in the building: WIKS (101.9 New Bern) dominates the ratings with its R&B format, and unlike the older Auditronics boards in the other studios, its digs include a brand-new IP-12 console from the Wheatstone plant just down the road. Kiss’ history is documented in a display case in the hallway near the sales department, and its big coverage of the region is celebrated with a fancy coverage map, too.
From here, we head to dinner down in Jacksonville, 30 miles or so to the south down US 17 – and after dinner, we check out one of the quirky small-market voices here. WSME (1120 Camp Lejeune) operates from a little second-floor space in an office complex right off the main drag on New Bridge Street, with a stripped-down studio (that’s just a Mackie mixer on the table!) that feeds “Beach Radio Network” oldies to both “Freedom 1120,” WSME and its 97.1 translator, along with “Beach 94.1,” WLSG (1340) down the coast in Wilmington and its 94.1 translator.
After signing the Wall of Fame in the hallway outside the studio and admiring the PT Cruiser outside with both stations’ logos, we’re off in the dark to see transmitters.
The WSME transmitter site is east of Jacksonville on NC 24, just across the road from the northern boundary of Camp Lejeune itself. This station signed on in 1979 as a daytimer on 1580, WJIK, and it had a religious format for most of its first two decades on the air under several different calls.
In 2003, what was then WSMO moved from 1580 down the dial to 1120, trading its 10 kW power at 1580 for a more potent 6 kW on 1120, dropping to 4.4 kW critical hours before signing off at sunset.
Inside the transmitter shed, we find not only a rare high-powered LPB transmitter but also a stash of reel-to-reel dubs featuring stickers from all sorts of defunct eastern North Carolina broadcasters.
Before heading back up 17 to New Bern for the night, we make one more stop in the dark, off Country Club Road near the mall on Jacksonville’s north side at the single tower and studio/office building of WJCV (1290), the city’s religious AM.
Even without anyone home, we get a sort of mini-tour just by peering in the window, where the studio sits right off the lobby, with a window in turn looking back into the Harris transmitter in the back room.
It’s hard to see in the dark, but WJCV’s translator, W252BO (98.3 Pumpkin Center), is mounted up near the top of the single AM tower, which carries 5 kW by day and 47 watts at night.
We’ll have to come back in daylight sometime to see these towers better, along with the two other AMs in town: Spanish-language WSRP (910) runs 5 kW day and night from three towers on US 258 northwest of Jacksonville, and talker WJNC (1240) has its studio and transmitter right off Lejeune Blvd., the main drag that intersects US 17.
Thanks to Tom and Mike and the staffs of Beasley New Bern and WSME for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back – for real! Listen to our latest episode right here!
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 (finally!) 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 eastern North Carolina IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: From the Bluewater to Kitchener/Waterloo