Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
For 17 years and counting now, we’ve spent a week of April in Las Vegas at the NAB Show, with anywhere from a couple of days to a week or more on either side of the show spent traveling around the southwest getting our desert on.
Those trips have almost always begun and ended with a flight, usually into Vegas but sometimes into Los Angeles or Phoenix. But as the 2017 NAB approached, so did our old friend Aaron Read of Rhode Island Public Radio, a notorious loather of air travel.
“I’m driving to NAB from Providence,” he said. “Wanna come?”
(Those of you with long memories will recall that back in 2011, your editor spent four madcap days speeding across America with Aaron as he headed for a new job in California.)
“Yeah! Let’s do it!”
And so it came to pass that we were once again riding shotgun, but this time without quite as much time pressure and with a little more of an opportunity to stop and smell the RF along the way back east.
Heading out of Vegas, we crossed the vast emptiness of southern Utah on our first day on the road, admiring the mountain vistas and shivering in the April chill on our way up to our first night’s destination, Grand Junction, Colorado.
We didn’t have time to stop and get much in the way of tours, but having never been in this part of the state, we did at least get up early that second morning and drive around town to get some pictures of towers and studios.
Three of Grand Junction’s four AMs are located on the west end of town. There are only two towers involved here: Sports talker KEXO (1230), the city’s second-oldest AM, signed on Leap Day of 1948 from the same site it now occupies off 25 1/2 Road, in what was probably still a rural area a generation ago but is now surrounded by housing subdivisions.
Religious KJOL (620) is the newest AM in town, having signed on in 1961 as KSTR. It’s now on its third transmitter site, a few miles to the northwest, off H Road and 23 Road just north of I-70 in a more rural area – and it shares its tower with sports station KTMM (1340). KTMM is the former KWSL, and its original 1957 tower site on Patterson Road on Grand Junction’s west side is now a shopping center.
Back in town, just a little bit east of KEXO and north of downtown, CBS affiliate KREX-TV (Channel 5) is the market’s heritage TV station, operating since 1954 from a studio and tower on Hillcrest Drive.
KREX suffered a devastating fire here in January 2008 that destroyed its original building; almost a decade later, you’d never know the fire had happened to look at the new building that sits on the same site. Today’s KREX is on VHF channel 2, putting out just 800 watts to cover the compact city, with lots of translators augmenting it. (Its old analog channel 5 signal started out here at Hillcrest but moved up to the tower farm to the west in 2002 for the last years of analog TV; that Black Ridge site is still home to sister Fox affiliate KFQX, channel 4/RF 15, which carries KREX’s CBS programming on a subchannel.)
Until 1979, KREX-TV had the local market all to itself, though cable TV brought signals in from Denver, more than 200 miles away. In 1979, KJCT (Channel 8) signed on with ABC, followed in 1996 by NBC affiliate KKCO (Channel 11). Since 2013, KKCO and KJCT have been sister stations, operating from a studio not far from KREX. (And just to make things more confusing, the current KJCT is an LPTV signal, with the original full-power KJCT license having been sold off to avoid duopoly issues.)
We finish off our Grand Junction morning with a drive out US 50 southeast of the city to the market’s big AM voice. KFXJ started out in 1926, landed on 1310 kc through most of the 1930s as it established itself up at Hillcrest Manor, relocated to 1200 and then 1230 for the NARBA shuffle, then quickly moved to 920. In the 1950s, KFXJ (and KFXJ-TV) became KREX/KREX-TV – and in 1962, KREX obtained a CP to go to 50 kW days, 10 kW nights on 1100. That new high-powered facility didn’t get on the air until 1970; a generation later, KREX(AM) was sold off and became today’s KNZZ.
And yes, that 1931-vintage KFXJ radio facility up at Hillcrest Manor is the very building (much expanded) that burned in 2008 as KREX-TV. How I wish I’d had the chance to see it while it was still standing!
From Grand Junction, we headed east on I-70 through the mountains to get to a quick lunch in Denver and then a long afternoon across the plains as the weather began to turn…but we’ll get to that in next week’s installment.
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Next week: I-70 Across Kansas