Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we left off in last week’s installment of Site of the Week, we were looking at studios in Macon, Georgia – and promising to show you some towers, too.
And we’ll get there, but in our usual meandering way, we have a few more studio exteriors to show you from the few hours we spent driving around Macon before heading south toward Florida.
As with so many smaller southern markets, Macon took a long time to become a three-network town – 29 years, in fact, between the sign-on of the first station in town and the launch of the third. That third one was WGXA (Channel 24), which started off in 1982 with ABC, then flipped to Fox in 1996, sending ABC off to an even newer signal, WPGA-TV (Channel 58) to the south in Perry. ABC returned to WGXA in 2010 on its 24.2 subchannel, which brands as “ABC 16” for WGXA’s RF channel, while 24.1 is “Fox 24.” We find the whole thing just south of downtown on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard – just a few blocks south of Macon’s NBC affiliate, housed in a historic warehouse building on Poplar Street across from the old railroad station.
WMGT (Channel 41) hit the air in 1968 as WCWB (long before the WB television network), taking its current calls in 1983.
Add up WMGT and WGXA in the ratings, and you still end up well behind the market’s oldest and biggest station. WMAZ-TV (Channel 13) wasn’t quite first in town when it signed on in September 1953 – an early UHF station, WETV (Channel 47), beat it by a few months – but a big VHF signal always beat a little UHF back then, and it took just a year and a half for channel 47 to fold, leaving WMAZ as the dominant TV here.
The WMAZ studios (which once also housed WMAZ radio, now WMAC 940/WDEN 99.1) are north of downtown along busy Gray Highway, tucked away behind trees and big dishes.
All of Macon’s TV towers (save for the PBS station, WMUM-TV 29) are in the same spot just off I-16 southeast of the city. The signs say US 23/GA 87, or “Golden Isles Highway,” but the locals call this the “Cochran Short Route.”
Whatever you call it, it’s home to four tall towers, three on the north side of the road and a fourth to the south. We approached it from the south, a week after the studio pictures, as we were heading back to Atlanta from all the Florida adventures you’ll be seeing in this space over the next few installments.
That’s WGXA’s tower in the foreground in the shot above, with WMAZ just to the left and WMGT way off to the left across the highway. To the right of WGXA is the WPGA-TV tower, back in the woods to the north.
WMAZ’s building and radar are easy to spot from the road, just northwest of WGXA; the RF 13 antenna tops the tower and below it there’s still a set of FM bays up there that we think are an aux for WDEN (99.1), the former WMAZ-FM that’s now on another tower just up the road that we didn’t see.
Across the street is WMGT (Channel 41), now on RF 40 – and when it started out here in 1968, it had its studios at the base of its tower, the only Macon station to be located out of town.
We couldn’t make out much of the building from the gate, alas, but there’s at least an old studio sign by the highway.
This tower is also home to Cumulus’ WPEZ (93.7), with its 8-bay antenna mounted just below WMGT’s RF 40 signal from the top of the tower.
We didn’t get to the smaller AM sites in Macon, but we weren’t leaving town without going a little out of our way to see the big one in town, the station now known as WMAC but long known as WMAZ radio.
Long before it had a TV offshoot, WMAZ was already the major radio station in Macon, even with a relatively troublesome spot on the dial. As early as 1931, WMAZ was on 1180 kHz, running just 1000 watts on a channel whose dominant occupants were out west – KOB in Albuquerque and KEX in Portland. The NARBA shuffle of 1941 broke up that 1180 channel, displacing everyone to a different frequency.
For WMAZ, it was a lucky break – the station was moved to the new Mexican clear channel on 940 with a construction permit to go to 5000 watts from a new site northwest of the city on US 41, Forsyth Road.
The new site was completed in 1943, allowing WMAZ to move from its 1000-watt site on Napier Avenue on Macon’s west side. After the war, WMAZ boosted its day power to 10 kW – and by 1959, WMAZ was all the way up to 50 kilowatts by day, 10 kW at night from its five-tower array on Forsyth Road. Those five towers are largely unchanged 75 years later, tucked in behind trees next to a nursing home. (We had to stitch together the panorama above to show you all five at once!)
Where to next? I-75 beckons – and next week, we’ll show you what we saw as we headed to the Florida-Georgia line.
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.
Don’t forget you can still visit our store to check out our other great products. We’ll be taking preorders for the 2021 calendar soon. Stay tuned!
And don’t miss a big batch of Macon IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Through Valdosta to Gainesville