Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
On the way out to the NAB Show in Las Vegas this year, I booked an earlier flight than usual – but a night in a hotel in Buffalo and a 3:30 AM wakeup call were worth it, because my nonstop Southwest flight got me to Las Vegas a little after 9, Pacific time, which gave me a morning to go catch up with a Vegas site I’d only ever seen from street level.
When the Stratosphere opened back in 1996, the 1150-foot tower wasn’t really designed for broadcasting. Even as the tallest structure (by far) in Vegas, the Strat’s tip is still far lower than any of the surrounding mountaintop sites where the city’s FM and TV stations have long made their homes.
But if the Strat wasn’t much use for full-power FM, it turned out to be very useful for on-channel boosters and, eventually, for translators, too.
In 2001, two rimshot Vegas FMs became the first signals on the Strat, placing high-power, on-channel boosters at the very top of the tower. KOAS (105.7) was then licensed to Dolan Springs, Arizona, while KVGS (107.9) was licensed to Laughlin, Nevada, both sharing a tower on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, 20 miles or so southeast of the Hoover Dam. The addition of 2500 watts of booster power from up here at the Strat changed things dramatically for these stations, giving them usable signals in the core of the market; for a time, KOAS was up near the top of the ratings in Vegas, and in 2014, cluster owner Beasley bought both stations.
In the last few years, the explosion of translators has brought more FM to the Strat, which meant there was lots to see when we finally took the elevator ride (and then walk) up to the rooftop this past April.
The tall tower that rises from the middle of the roof is there mostly to carry the “Big Shot” thrill ride, which lifts riders up the side of the tower and then drops them abruptly (no thanks!) – but it now has three two-bay antenna systems up here, too. That’s KVGS-1 and KOAS-1 combined into the directional ERI up top off the left side of the tower, I’m pretty sure, and just to its right is another directional ERI that carries a new Beasley sister station, K268CS (101.5). (It was doing “Lite” AC when I was up here in April, fed by the HD2 of sister KCYE 102.7, but has since switched to relay talker KDWN 720.)
Below that on the left is yet another two-bay ERI for K280DD (103.9), which iHeart leases to carry hip-hop “Real 103.9,” fed by an HD2 of its KYMT (93.1).
Two more translators sit on a lower rooftop above a mechanical room, overlooking the “Insanity” thrill ride that dangles riders out over the edge of the Strat’s observation decks while spinning them around. (Again, no thanks!)
The two-bay PSI antenna is Lotus’ K255CT (98.9), which rebroadcasts Fox Sports KRLV (1340) – and which was the flagship for the thrilling first season of the Vegas Golden Knights, who started their run to the Stanley Cup finals while we were in town. The one-bay Shively to the left? That’s K272EE (102.3), the first translator up here, which relays the “Kool” oldies of KQLL (1280).
The views from here are, as you’d expect, fantastic. You can see the Strat from almost anywhere in Vegas – the image at right is a telephoto view from up at the KXST 1140 site in North Las Vegas, a dozen miles or so north of the Strat – and so you can see the whole city and then some from the Strat, including the view above out to the southeast toward the Black Mountain TV/FM sites in Henderson.
(The 2005 photo at the top of the page, by the way, captures the original thrill ride up here, the “High Roller” coaster that wound around the top of the observation pod but was dismantled later that year. The “High Roller” name now attaches to the giant observation wheel down on the Strip; that one we did finally ride this year.)
Since the building wasn’t really designed for broadcasting, there’s no one transmitter room up in the observatory pod, save for a small room for the Vegas TV stations that have used this site from day one for their beauty shots of the Strip and for ENG receive.
Instead, individual racks are squeezed in wherever there was room, which means the K255CT transmitter rack, for instance, sits in a corner of a mechanical room next to some huge HVAC ductwork. K280DD and K272EE have their own locked racks along another wall of this room – and walking around the corner to another mechanical area brings us to the glass-doored racks that house the Beasley boosters and the 101.5 translator.
There’s at least one more translator on its way up here: there will soon be a 96.7 signal up here, fed from a leased HD subchannel but synchronized with KYLI, a full-power 96.7 rimshot way up north in Bunkerville, near the Arizona/Utah state lines.
Thanks to Lotus’ Jamie Gorr for the tours!
We have a great lineup of podcasts here on our site. While you’re catching up with your summer reading, don’t forget about your summer listening. Now is the time to make sure you’re up to date with Top of the Tower.
Our latest one features Donna Halper discussing her life in radio, from her time at WMMS when she helped Rush get US airplay, to what she learned from Arnie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg.
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Next week: WLVL, Lockport, NY