Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Until the fall of 2018, Georgia was an unusual state in our Tower Site archives: we’d been to Atlanta many, many times and had seen just about everything there is to see there. But the vastness of the state outside metro Atlanta? Not so much. Aside from a brief stop in Augusta a few years back on the way out of Atlanta, it was a big peach-shaped blank spot on our broadcast map.
All of which is to explain how our journey to last year’s Radio Show in Orlando began with a flight to Atlanta, a game at the Braves’ new SunTrust Park (current MLB park #24 for us), and then a drive south to Macon.
We didn’t know much about Macon, but at least we knew people in Macon. Adam Ragusea worked at Boston’s WBUR and did “The Pub” podcast for Current, where your editor is a contributing writer. Since settling down in Macon a few years ago, he’s been teaching at Mercer University and has worked for Georgia Public Broadcasting – and there’s a connection there that launched our morning of Macon media tourism.
Mercer, you see, has developed some of the deepest media partnerships of any college we’ve ever visited. The Center for Collaborative Journalism building on Montpelier Avenue, at the north end of the Mercer campus, houses not only the school’s journalism classrooms but also the newsroom of Macon’s daily newspaper, McClatchy’s Telegraph, where students get experience right alongside the paper’s journalists.
There’s a third partner in the collaboration, too: Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Macon outlets, WMUM-TV (Channel 29) and WMUM-FM (89.7) had already been cooperating with Mercer. That early cooperation led GPB to change the stations’ callsigns in 2006 – they had been WDCO-TV and WDCO-FM, reflecting their city of license, Cochran, but the new callsign stands for “Mercer University Macon.”
GPB’s Macon newsroom and radio studios now live in a little strip mall right behind the main CCJ building. The parking lot behind the buildings also backs up to yet another media building, home to the student-run TV station, WMUB-LD.
At one time, these Macon studios originated local “Morning Edition” inserts, as well as the network’s statewide talk show when Ragusea hosted it; “Morning Edition” now comes from GPB’s Savannah studios and much of the rest of the day comes from GPB in Atlanta, with the Macon newsroom supplying stories to the statewide feed.
From Mercer, we head northeast a couple of miles into downtown Macon, on the banks of the Ocmulgee River. One of the tallest buildings down here is the ten-story American Federal Building at 544 Mulberry Street, and it’s here we find Cumulus’ Macon cluster, with offices on the fifth floor and studios on six.
Here we connect with an old friend: Justin Bryant, PD and afternoon jock on top-40 WMGB (95.1), went to college up in my native western New York at SUNY Brockport, then joined a whole parade of Brockport grads who went to work in Rochester radio. In Justin’s case, that was top-40 WPXY, where he went by “Norm on the Barstool” in the 90s, before moving on to a programming career that took him southward and eventually landed him in Macon.
The Cumulus studios would look familiar to Andy Travis and Venus Flytrap – a meandering series of hallways connecting 70s-vintage office spaces and studio clusters for each of the stations in the cluster. When we stopped by, Justin’s B95 was just getting settled in to a studio remodel, with fresh new paint and furniture.
A back corner of the sixth floor houses the original studios up here – long before it was an entire Cumulus cluster, this space was originally used by black gospel WDDO (1240), which went silent in 2006, and AC WPEZ (107.9), about which more in a moment. Several of the studios back in this corner are gutted and awaiting renovation, but one was alive and well and home to WLZN (92.3), the hip-hop station in the cluster.
A rack room off the lobby entrance to this floor is shared by all the stations in the cluster; the sports station, WAYS (1500), originates from automation back here, too.
Working our way around to the front of the building, we find a small studio that houses the morning show for the current version on WPEZ, now a class C1 signal licensed to Jeffersonville on 93.7. (The original WPEZ on 107.9? That facility migrated north to the Atlanta market in the late 1990s and is now Radio One’s WHTA.)
The Z93.7 studio looks into another recently renovated studio, this one for country WDEN-FM (99.1), one of the heavy hitters in this cluster. This one’s also a migrant – WDEN-FM used to be on 105.3 with a 100kW signal, but that facility was downgraded to a C3 on 105.5 to make room for some Atlanta-area shuffles and was eventually sold off to become K-Love’s WLXF. That sent country WDEN-FM to the 99.1 facility that used to be WAYS-FM – and the WAYS calls to what was once WDEN(AM) on 1500.
Keep going to the corner suite here and you’re in the current home of the oldest station in town. WMAZ signed on back in 1931, grew to 50,000 watts on 940 (plus FM sister WAYS on 99.1), spawned Macon’s first TV station, WMAZ-TV 13, and then split off from the TV outlet in the 1990s, changing calls to WMAC.
It’s mostly syndicated talk now, but there’s still a nice set of studios here for local talk, news and traffic.
TV stations? Towers? Macon has those, too – and we’ll show them to you in next week’s edition of Site of the Week!
Thanks to Adam Ragusea and Justin Bryant for the tours!
The 2020 Tower Site Calendar will soon be off the press, but you don’t have to wait to order it.
For the month of September, you can order your copy in advance for 20% off the regular price.
Note to our regular buyers (and our irregular buyers — we love every one of you): This is not this year’s cover, as this year’s calendar is still in production. We promise the real cover will be just as beautiful, if not more.
Visit our store to buy the new calendar and check out our other products.
And don’t miss a big batch of central Georgia IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Whoopie! More Macon!