Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we left you at the conclusion of last week’s exciting Tower Site of the Week episode, we’d spent a rainy night in Hays, Kansas, with 270 miles of I-70 in Kansas still ahead of us, followed by another two hours of Missouri before day three of our cross-country adventure could draw to a close.
An hour east of Hays, we made our first stop of this leg in the small town of Russell, known best (if it’s known at all) as Bob Dole’s hometown. Dole would have been the county attorney here in 1956 when Russell’s first radio station, KRSL (990), signed on; he was in Congress in 1965 when KRSL-FM (95.9) joined the AM daytimer from its site off North Main Street.
(And why did we stop around the corner from KRSL to take a picture of translator K236AT, relaying Bott’s religious KKCV-FM 102.5 from Rozel, way out south of Hays? It was there.)
From Russell, it’s an even hour to Salina, where I-135 turns south off 70 en route to Wichita. As befits one of the larger commercial centers in this part of the state, there are three AMs here, though our April visit gets us to only one of them. That’s KSAL (1150), which dates back to 1937 and is now part of Rocking M’s cluster in the market, operating from offices (above) on Santa Fe Avenue in downtown Salina and a four-tower transmitter site east of town along old US 40.
We didn’t get to the other two Salina AMs until our return trip in August, when we had a little more time to do the wandering off the highway that they required.
KINA (910) is Eagle’s news-talk station in town, and by the time it signed on in 1961 it required a five-tower DA way out to the south and east to squeeze in 500 watts of daytime-only power over town. (Even so, the insanely good ground conductivity here still gives it an impressive signal to the north and west.)
And way, way up north of town in Cloud County, 30-plus miles up US 81, we find one of the very biggest AM signals in the whole country. KFRM (550) takes its callsign from the farm country it’s served since 1948, and its 5000 watts from these three towers covers most of Kansas by day even while protecting co-channel stations in distant St. Louis (KTRS, ex-KSD) and Bismarck, N.D. (KFYR). Even with just 110 watts at night, KFRM is still listenable in Salina, 30 miles away, most nights.
(How big is this signal? For the first decade and a half of KFRM’s existence, its studios were in Kansas City, where venerable KMBC operated KFRM as a satellite station to bring its programming to rural Kansas. And its status as a daytimer on 550 was meant to be only temporary – the plan had been for KFRM to go fulltime on 540 as soon as the FCC completed its postwar rule changes to open up use of that frequency; while KFRM operated under temporary authority on 540 in the early 1950s, the permanent use of the channel went instead to KWMT in Fort Dodge, Iowa. We could write a book about the odd history of this station!)
The drive north up US 81 takes us past at least one of Salina’s FMs, KYEZ (93.7), part of the Rocking M cluster whose building we saw in downtown Salina.
Our August trip then continued east from KFRM’s tower through the small town of Clay Center, home to KFRM’s sister station KCLY (100.9) and the studios for both stations, then turned south again to Abilene, the next town east of Salina.
Back in April, we pulled off I-70 one exit short of Salina to spend some quality time in the back room at the Russell Stover factory store, full of factory seconds (but still plenty tasty!) at bargain prices. (Yes, we went back again in August!) And almost within sight of the factory parking lot, there’s the single tower of little KABI (1560), Abilene’s little 250-watt AM daytimer since 1963.
KABI is now part of Rocking M, and its studio building on the west side of downtown Abilene bears the logos of all of Rocking M’s stations here and over in Salina as well.
This building sits just across the railroad tracks from the museum honoring Abilene’s most famous son, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was gone from Kansas long before there was any radio on the air here. It’s a fascinating museum, and not only did it consume our attention for a couple of hours in April, it kept the rest of the family occupied even longer in August while we drove off to find KFRM.
Our April trip took us past just one more tower site in Kansas: another half-hour east of Abilene is Junction City, where we stopped for a delicious Freddy’s Steakburger before snapping a shot of the two-tower KJCK (1420) array just off I-70 on the east side of town.
This is where we mention how much FM has shuffled around here in recent years: KABI’s sister Abilene FM station, KSAJ (98.5), is in the process of moving eastward to the Topeka market; KJCK’s FM sister, KJCK-FM, moved from 94.5 to 97.5 some years back to allow Topeka’s WIBW-FM to move from 97.5 to 94.5, which in turn opened space for a new 97.3 in Kansas City.
We saw Kansas City stations on both the April and August trips, and in next week’s installment we’ll show you the April tours there and in Columbia, too, as we kept pushing ever eastward in the rain.
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Next week: Kansas City and Columbia, April 2017