Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What tower site is most distant from its market over flat land? There’s a very good case to be made for the two Denver FM move-ins that operate from this 1994-foot monster of a tower out on the plains of eastern Colorado, some 65 miles due east of the state capitol.
It takes almost an hour and a half to drive out here, eastward on I-70 and US 36 and then north on county roads that eventually turn into dirt as they finally pull up at the driveway into this site, shared by Max Media’s KFCO (107.1 Bennett) and KJHM (101.5 Watkins).
These stations both started out north of here, up in the Fort Morgan-Brush area along I-76. KFCO started out as a little class A on 107.1 in Brush in the 1980s, as KKDD and then KSIR-FM. KJHM was in nearby Fort Morgan as a class A on 101.7, KBRU, as far back as the late 1960s.
At the dawn of the 21st century, both stations turned their attention to the riches of the much bigger Denver market down the road. They built this beast of a tower in 2003, selecting this remote spot because it was precisely as close as it could get to second-adjacent Denver signals (KOSI 101.1 for 101.5, KBPI 106.7 and KQKS 107.5 for 107.1) while allowing a fully-spaced class C signal to exist.
For such huge signals, there’s not much here: two prefab buildings sit in a fenced enclosure at the tower base, one for 101.5, the other for 107.1, with combiner modules in the corner to allow the signals to share a transmission line up to their shared antenna way, way, way up there in the air.
The real game here, of course, was not to flood a wide circle of eastern Colorado ranch land with these class C signals.
Instead, as was the trend back then, it was to set the stage for on-channel boosters right in Denver to fill the western edges of those signals with greater field strength over as much of the population of metro Denver as possible.
Today, Max Media operates just one booster for each signal, sharing a tower on E. Iliff Avenue southeast of downtown that has some interesting history of its own. That low-slung building in front was the original studio home of KUBD (Channel 59), a low-budget indie that came and went in the late 1980s, later affiliating with Telemundo and then becoming Pax/ion outlet KPXC. Later, this site was home to low-power KQDK-CA (Channel 39), which still transmits from the tower out back.
The booster rules allow for operation at 10% of the full-power station’s licensed power, and so both 101.5 and 107.1 can run 20 kW from here, albeit with a directional antenna to keep the boosters’ 60 dBu contours contained within the edges of the 60 from the tall tower way out east.
The booster site is less than a mile away from the Max Media studios, in an office complex on Parker Road in Aurora that has several broadcasting connections. One of the other buildings in the complex, shown above, hosts the antenna for KMAS-LP (Channel 33), the in-town relay of Telemundo’s KDEN, whose main site we saw in our last installment; those FM bays on the next building over appear to have something to do with Crawford Broadcasting, whose Denver studios are down below.
Over here at Max’s seventh-floor studios, chief engineer Dan Hyatt has put together some studios that nicely match the current formats on his signals. These stations have tried a lot of different things since becoming Denver move-ins – AC and several flavors of top-40 on 107.1, everything from standards to conservative talk on 101.5 – before finally landing on throwback R&B “Jammin” on 101.5 and hip-hop “Flo” on 107.1.
The studios are lined up along one outside wall, liberally decorated with lots of wall wraps featuring the core artists for each format – and we caught them in the midst of transition, with Dan getting ready to put new SAS consoles in throughout the facility.
We’ll leave you this week with a little bonus to whet your appetite for the Denver stations we’ll show you next time: as we headed back into town from the transmitter site way out in Adams County, we stopped to pay homage at a long-gone broadcast facility.
Out at the eastern edge of Denver, way out at the far reaches of Colfax Avenue, the state transportation department occupies a building that’s rather distinctly not your usual institutional box. Look closely above the door and you can see where the “K O A” call letters were rudely blasted off after Denver’s biggest radio voice moved away from this site in 1959. (You can see “before” pictures at John Schneider’s Radio Historian page on the General Electric AM stations.)
KOA had been at this site since 1932 and even had studios out here for a few years early on; its move south 27 years later helped it put more signal down toward Colorado Springs, leaving behind a building that still oozes the romance of radio almost 60 years later. (And a road name, too – how many people on the eastern edge of Denver know why the major north-south artery that crosses Colfax out here is called “Tower Road”?)
In next week’s installment, we’ll see where KOA went, and where its studios are now, too!
Thanks to Daniel Hyatt 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 Denver IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: KOA and iHeart Denver, 2017