Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
It was just a few weeks ago in this space that we documented our first drive across the country in 2017, our April post-NAB journey back home from Las Vegas by way of western Colorado and Kansas City.
We didn’t know then that less than four months later, we’d be back behind the wheel, driving from upstate New York to Denver and back after a planned family vacation by plane somehow turned into another road trip. Our first few days on the road didn’t cover much turf that we hadn’t seen recently – the inevitable overnight in Fort Wayne, some stops to pick up legal IDs for Tophour.com along I-80 across Illinois and Iowa, and then Omaha and Lincoln, which we’d just visited in detail back in February 2017.
So we waited until an hour or so west of Lincoln to start checking out some areas that were completely new to us, starting in the small town of York, Nebraska. KAWL (1370) and KTMX (104.9) are the first of several stations we’ll see this trip that belong to the Nebraska Rural Radio Association, a farmer-owned cooperative, and they’re among the association’s more recent purchases. KTMX (“Max Country”) now has a fairly potent C2 signal that comes from a main site south of 80 and east of York and reaches all the way to Lincoln, but its older FM antenna is now an aux on the AM tower just off US 81 a mile or so north of the highway at the studio building. The little AM is “Kool” oldies, with a translator on 103.5.
From York, it’s a little under an hour west to the next broadcast community Nebraska has to offer – and here, we recommend that you might want to have an atlas and possibly a large notepad handy, because the broadcast markets start to get a little confusing.
At exit 312 off I-80, a quick drive north pulls us into Grand Island, while a slightly longer drive south goes to Hastings, and there’s plenty of overlap between the radio scenes in these two small cities. We start with a drive into Grand Island, where KRGI (1430) has a venerable three-tower DA just east of town off the side of US 34. It’s been a fixture here since it signed on in 1953, and today it’s part of a station group that includes country KRGI-FM (96.5 Grand Island) as well as a small constellation of translators fed by FM HD subchannels (rock “Thunder” on HD2, regional Mexican “Gran D” on HD3, classic country “Legend” on HD4) and classic rock KRGY (97.3), too.
With a day rapidly ticking away and a deadline to reach our overnight stop in North Platte, two hours westward, we don’t spend long in Grand Island (which means, among other things, skipping the oldest and biggest signal here, daytimer KMMJ 750, which is way out to the northeast of town).
Instead, we make the drive south to Hastings, which is where we have to start explaining the oddity that is the “Lincoln/Hastings/Kearney” TV market. This unusual sprawling DMA was a creation of Lincoln’s KOLN-TV (Channel 10), which put satellite station KGIN (Channel 11) on the air from Grand Island in 1961 to blanket a huge swath of Nebraska with its CBS programming. Aside from the KOLN/KGIN simulcast, the rest of the market was never an over-the-air reality for anyone – aside from KOLN, Lincoln viewers got most of the rest of their TV from Omaha, less than an hour eastward, while viewers in Hastings, Grand Island and Kearney (another 40 minutes west) had their own separate NBC and ABC. ABC was “NTV,” a four-signal network based at KHGI (Channel 13) in Kearney, while NBC came from KHAS-TV (Channel 5), a classic tiny-market station with studio and transmitter right on the side of US 34 on the north side of Hastings. (Back in the day, it was a fairly regular e-skip catch for us in upstate New York in the summertime!)
Everything changed pretty dramatically a few years back – in 2014, an ownership shuffle in the market would have put KHAS-TV under the same ownership as the KOLN/KGIN “10/11” signals. Unable to own both, Gray Television sold KHAS-TV’s channel 5 license, which ended up with the SonLife religious network under new calls KNHL. The NBC affiliation and the Hastings newsroom, however, stayed with Gray on another signal, KSNB (Channel 4), from Superior. That “NBC 4” programming was also put on a translator serving Lincoln, and it’s on a KOLN/KGIN subchannel, too, which means it can now be seen in Lincoln quite well.
(ABC is still divided across the market between NTV here in the west and Citadel’s KLKN channel 8 in Lincoln; Fox is simulcast on an NTV subchannel from co-owned KFXL channel 51 in Lincoln, or at least it was until KFXL’s tower collapsed not long ago.)
Confused yet? We don’t blame you – and we haven’t even made it to the even tinier and more simulcast-filled market of North Platte, where this long day on the road will eventually end.
Before we can get there, though, there’s radio to be seen here in Hastings (and a quick lunch, too, where the patrons at Taco John’s might have seen us sticking antennas on the roof of the car to try to catch a DTV ID from KNHL, which didn’t really oblige. And being on RF 5 in the digital age, it’s a tough signal to get even right in town.)
Back when there was a KHAS-TV, it sprung from KHAS (1230), Hastings’ first radio station, circa 1940. The KHAS tower is on the west side of town, while the studio where its news-talk format originates is at the south end of downtown along US 6, now shared with its former rival KICS (1550), which also has its transmitter here. The Platte River Radio cluster here includes not only KHAS and KICS (part of an “ESPN Superstation” combo with KXPN 1460 over in Kearney) but also classic hits KKPR (98.9 Kearney) and AC “Breeze” KLIQ (94.5 Hastings).
(And just to make things more confusing, KKPR started as KHOL-FM, sister to what was then KHOL-TV, the predecessor of today’s KHGI/NTV. Now are you thoroughly confused?)
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Next week: Lexington and North Platte, Nebraska