Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
After almost three decades of driving across Ohio over and over again, we can tell you two things: first, there’s a lot of Ohio to drive across, and second, there are still bits and pieces we’ve never seen.
The summer of 2018 found us criss-crossing the Buckeye State three times, which is a good thing, because it gave us a chance to fill in some holes later on after missing some stations the first time out.
The first time was in June, heading to Indiana after the really cool WHIZ station visit we showed you last week. From Zanesville, our route took us through Columbus traffic and then up US 33, which starts as a freeway on the northwest corner of Columbus. A little less than an hour later, the freeway peters out in Bellefontaine (“bell-fountain,” in Ohio-speak), where the local radio stations are just off the freeway exit into town.
WBLL (1390) has had a bunch of identities since it signed on in 1951, including WTOO (“Top of Ohio”) and WOHP (“Ohio’s Highest Point”) – can you guess that the highest point in Ohio, Campbell Hill, is just across the highway from the studio and tower site here?
Today, there are three stations here: WBLL’s FM sister, WPKO (98.3, “the Peak of Ohio”), as well as “107.3 the Drive,” a translator here that’s fed by WPKO’s HD2. (WBLL, meanwhile, feeds a translator of its own in Urbana, 15 miles to the south, as “106.9 the Bull.”)
Leaving Bellefontaine, we’re in a hurry to get up the road to Fort Wayne, and so we don’t get to stop in the pretty lakeside town of Russell Point to check out the local LPFM, WRPO-LP (93.5).
That omission gets rectified a month and a half later, when our next Fort Wayne visit includes a return journey down 33 to Columbus. WRPO-LP is easy to find: turn south at the main intersection in town, heading away from the lake (where even the McDonald’s has a dock and offers boatside service!), and look for the municipal building a couple of blocks down on the left.
The village owns the license, but broadcaster Gene Kirby’s Gray Fox Broadcasting has run the programming here since the LPFM’s 2002 debut. It’s oldies (and good ones!) from a studio located right in the big picture window of the village building. In addition to the WRPO 93.5 signal from the tower on the roof of the village building here, Kirby runs a simulcast on another LPFM just a couple of miles back down the road toward Bellefontaine, WOHP-LP (101.3) in Huntsville, where we find the tower next to the fire station.
Back to June: on the way back home, we went back down 33 to see the Neil Armstrong Air & Space Museum in the astronaut’s hometown, Wapakoneta. On the way, the road’s angled path down from Ohio goes through the small town of Rockford, Ohio, where there’s another nifty community LPFM. “WRKD-LP Community Radio” runs WRKD-LP (101.3); like WRPO, it’s in the municipal building a block off the main street, and like WRPO, it has studios in the front of the building. (Alas, the door was locked and we didn’t get to see whatever was inside, but it was at least neat to see where the WRKD calls went after leaving their longtime home in Rockland, Maine.)
For all the time we spent in Fort Wayne this summer, we saw almost none of our broadcast friends there – save for a few passes by “Broadcast Park,” the recently-renamed TV facility on Butler Road that’s home to ABC/NBC affiliate WPTA (Channel 21) and its sister station, WISE-TV (Channel 33). This has been WPTA’s facility since it signed on way back in 1957, and the aging tower out back wasn’t quite ready to handle the load of both antennas it would have needed for WISE-TV’s repack, which moves the station from RF 18 to RF 34. So owner Quincy Newspapers put up a new tower over the summer right next to the old WPTA tower, rising to the same height but much stouter to handle future needs there.
And the drive home in June eventually took us on to US 30, where we’ve been driving past Galion (almost precisely halfway across the state) for many years, noting the tower of iHeart’s WFXN (102.3) every time we go by the exit to Ohio 598.
Only this time, it’s a different tower just south of 30 and east of 598: WFXN’s original tower came down in a tornado on Labor Day 2017, and it was promptly replaced by a brand new tower, antenna and (it would appear) prefab transmitter building.
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Next week: Reading, PA