Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When you’ve just made that long, long day’s drive across Nebraska from Omaha all the way to North Platte, as we did on the last day of July, the last thing most sane people would want to do would be to turn around and get back on I-80 eastbound for the hour’s drive back to Lexington. (It’s only a little over four hours to North Platte from Omaha, actually – but that’s only if you’re not making any stops, and you know from last week’s installment that we did a lot of stopping in Grand Island and Hastings.)
We, of course, are not especially sane when it comes to traveling, and as you’ll see in this week’s Site of the Week, we had a very good reason to backtrack.
Lexington isn’t a very big town – barely more than 10,000 people call it home – but it has an outsized place on the radio dial in western Nebraska ever since the 1951 sign-on of its local radio station, KRVN. The “Radio Voice of Nebraska” started as a 25,000-watt daytimer at 1010 on the dial, owned then as now by the Nebraska Rural Radio Association, a farmer-owned cooperative.
Today’s KRVN operates from top-notch studios just south of downtown Lexington along US 283, the Plum Creek Parkway – and what a station the farmers have built for themselves!
Since moving in here back in the 1980s from its original digs in a former funeral home, KRVN has filled wall after wall with awards, and well-deserved ones at that, for the super service it provides to the huge swaths of Nebraska and Kansas that can hear its signal.
Turn left as you walk into the building, past the big wooden KRVN sign in the vestibule, and you’ll be in a big open office area with a high wood-paneled ceiling. Look to your left from there and you’ll see the heart of the KRVN operation, a talent bullpen area ringed by studios.
KRVN-FM (93.1) has its studio on one side here – it’s “The River,” playing country music – and there are also production rooms, one of which doubles as the studio for KAMI (1580), a little AM signal west of here in Cozad that’s now also part of the Nebraska Rural Radio family playing classic country. (It has a Lexington translator at 100.1 on the dial.)
But it’s KRVN’s AM side that has the busiest studio in the building: from this corner room, KRVN’s staffers put out hours upon hours of farm programming every day.
Most of it is generated from a spacious newsroom and farm office around the corner, and much of it is shared with KRVN’s sister stations that assist in blanketing the state: KTIC (840) on the east side of the state in West Point and KNEB (960) way out west in Scottsbluff. They each have FM sisters, and they’ve been joined more recently by KAWL/KTMX in York, which we showed you last week.
It’s all managed from the other side of the building, which has its own open office space surrounded by executive suites – and before we leave, we loop back around to the operations side of the building to admire the historical displays, including a lovely vintage RCA mike and plenty of photos of KRVN in days gone by.
So where does the KRVN AM signal come from these days? With just enough daylight to spare, we hop into the truck with veteran chief engineer Rod Ziegler and head south and west across the back roads to the site north of Holdrege, Nebraska that has been home to KRVN since it made its big jump down the dial back in 1972.
After many years as a daytimer on 1010, KRVN was an obvious candidate to take advantage of the FCC’s decision in the 1960s to break down many of the eastern clear channels, allowing for nighttime directional operation in specific western states. Nebraska was assigned to duplicate the 880 frequency of New York’s WCBS, which had room for 50,000 watts day and night, using a four-tower directional array at sunset to keep its signal from heading back eastward toward New York.
After a decade of work (the initial application was filed in 1962 and the first CP for 880 was issued in 1967), KRVN made its debut on 880 from this site on March 6, 1972 (which is also the exact day that Shaquille O’Neal was born, a bit of trivia your editor knows because it was also the exact day he was born), with what was then an RCA 50 kW transmitter filling the long wall of its transmitter room.
The RCA is long gone, but its control console lives on at one end of the room, looking out over later Harris transmitters and the current Nautel that barely takes up any space at all by comparison.
(The 1010 facility, by the way, was much closer to town, off the Lincoln Highway at a spot that’s now a veterinary clinic.)
As you’d expect at a fairly remote site like this, there’s a kitchen and bunk space in adjoining rooms. The nighttime phasor has a room to itself on the opposite side of the building, behind where the RCA once sat.
Generators? But of course – and now there’s also a familiar set of hardened buildings out behind the transmitter building housing FEMA PEP emergency gear that we hope never to see in action.
Stick-chasing dog? That’s an extra feature out here at the KRVN site, too – the dog belongs to the neighbor who keeps an eye on the property, and he bursts out of the brush to play fetch for a bit while we take pictures of the KRVN towers in front of a lovely Nebraska sunset.
After having listened to KRVN for many years – its western night signal easily reaches all the way to the Pacific from out here in the middle of Nebraska – it was a privilege indeed to get to see it close-up. (And well worth the hour’s drive back to North Platte for a night’s rest ahead of more adventures there the next morning, which we’ll show you next week.)
Thanks to Rod Ziegler for the tours!
The Fybush Media podcast is back!
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 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 Nebraska IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: North Platte, Nebraska and into Colorado