Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
“It’s a long day, driving through Valdosta…”
OK, that’s not exactly what Gainesville, Florida’s favorite son sang back in the nineties, but Tom Petty probably made a lot of drives down I-75 through Georgia and north Florida on his way back home over the years.
We made that drive for the first time in the fall of 2018, headed south after a morning of radio fun in Macon en route to an overnight stop in Gainesville, and along the way we managed to fit in a couple of quick detours off the highway to see a little bit of radio.
You go two hours or so down 75 from Macon and Warner Robins before you get to another radio market of any significant size. That’s Valdosta, at the southern edge of Georgia, and while we didn’t have time to go into town and get a closer look at the radio scene, we at least pulled off to see one significant site at the edge of Valdosta.
Go west a couple of miles on US 84/221, away from Valdosta, and there’s a big piece of land on the side of the road with two towers on it. This is the longtime home of WGOV, the heritage callsign in Valdosta that came from the station’s founder, former Georgia GOVernor Eunith Rivers.
The former WGOV(AM) on 950 out here now has the calls WGUN, which had been on a sister station up in Atlanta for many years. The WGOV calls are now on sister station WGOV-FM at 96.7, one of two FMs that operate from this site – the other is WAAC (92.9), one of the biggest FM signals in town.
And there’s some lost history here, too – UHF trivia buffs know that the only construction permit the FCC ever issued for channel 37 was to WGOV-TV, which would have been right here at this site if it had ever been built. (It wasn’t, and once that CP was dead, channel 37 was permanently reserved for radio astronomy and remains a gap in the UHF spectrum even now.)
After our quick peek at Valdosta radio history, it’s back on 75 across the state line. The highway slices diagonally to the southeast as it enters Florida, where another few miles of driving take us to the interchange with I-10 and the small town of Lake City.
Where do you find Lake City’s radio stations? On Alligator Lake, of course, right off the side of US 441, where Newman Broadcasting’s WNFB (94.3), WJTK (96.5) and WDSR (1340) all live in a converted Quonset hut studio right on the lakeshore. Where’s the tower? In the lake, where we catch a glimpse of the transmitter building out there on a platform at the base of the shared tower.
Where to next? Back down 75, where it’s a little under an hour to Gainesville, the booming city best known as the home of the University of Florida. We’d poked around here a little bit back in 2011 (see those installments here and here), but there was plenty we didn’t see back then – and a chance, before our first morning appointment, to revisit two sites we did see in 2011.
On SW 24th Avenue, west of 75 on the western edge of town, WYKS (105.3) was probably out in the middle of nowhere when it signed on in the early 1970s as progressive rocker WGVL on 105.5 – but now its studio/tower site is tucked in amidst lots of new development.
There’s a new translator on the tower, at 98.9, relaying smooth jazz from WAJD (1390). And what’s that in the parking lot? A rare survivor from the days when lots of radio stations promoted themselves with rolling giant boombox-shaped remote studios!
Tower Road is the main north-south drag that’s just west of the Gillen Broadcasting facility here, and the growth out on this side of town means it’s being widened on this September morning as we weave through the traffic cones on the way north to the oldest site out here.
That’s less than a mile north of WYKS, where four widely-spaced towers mark the spot for WRUF (850), the University of Florida’s radio station with a history that goes back to 1925.
Since 1949, WRUF’s AM site has been out here (this is why it’s called Tower Road), running 5000 watts fulltime (DA at night) on 850 with a signal that covers a big chunk of north Florida, especially by day. The original WRUF-FM was out here, too, and while it’s long since moved, there’s now a translator on one of the AM towers at 98.1 for WRUF(AM).
Just a little north from the 850 site, there’s an office park just off Tower Road that’s home to MARC Broadcasting, one of the Gainesville commercial clusters we didn’t get to see back in 2011.
There are four FMs here, plus two AMs feeding translators: rhythmic hits on “Magic” WTMG (101.3 Williston), classic hits on WXJZ (100.9 Gainesville), alternative rock on “Buzz” WHHZ (100.5 Newberry), country on rimshot WPLL (106.9 Cross City) and religion on “The Shepherd,” WTMN (1430 Gainesville)/WRZN (720 Hernando) and translators at 96.3 and 103.5, the latter down by the Villages, south of Ocala.
The (largely identical) studios and rack room for the cluster are all lined up neatly along the back of the second floor office space, nicely outfitted with SAS consoles and networking that’s all tied back to a tidy rack room.
From here, we’re off to Gator-land – join us next week for a look inside the very, very impressive new media center down the road at the University of Florida.
Thanks to MARC’s Kevin Mangan for the tour!
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This is a special year for our calendar – it’s the 20th anniversary for us, and the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom in 1922, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country. This special edition of the calendar will showcase the survivors from the Class of 1922, which grew into some of America’s biggest radio stations.
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Next week: The University of Florida, Gainesville