Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Someday, we’ll get to Tampa with enough time to see all of the towers in the tower farm at Riverview, out there in a relatively remote area east of the bay and I-75 and south of Tampa.
When we first made it out here in 2011, it was at the end of a long day of Tampa station visits – and a short day of daylight that meant we barely got to see the tall towers here at all before it got dark on us.
When we finally got back out here in September 2018, it was with plenty of daylight to spare – but also with a deadline, at least if we were going to make the long drive across the bay to St. Petersburg and our first-ever game at Tropicana Field. And so just like our 2011 visit, this one also focused on the busiest of the half-dozen sites here, the American Tower community facility off Rhodine Road at the southern edge of the tower farm.
This place just keeps getting busier: since our 2011 visit, the last of the big transmitter rooms along the main ground floor hallway has filled up with Tegna’s WTSP (Channel 10). You might recall that spacing issues to Miami forced channel 10’s analog site to be far to the north edge of the market, up at Holiday; once analog TV was gone, WTSP was free to finally join the rest of the Tampa TV crowd here at Riverview, in a space that holds not only its transmitter but a last-ditch emergency studio with a couple of chairs and a green curtain.
Next door, then-Clear Channel was still building out its room for its three FM signals when we visited in 2011; eight years later, it was iHeart and its WFLZ (93.3), WMTX (100.7) and WFUS (103.5) were nicely settled in with their main analog, HD and aux transmitters in neat rows.
Down the hall, the rest of the TV stations here line up neatly, one to a room: CTN’s Christian WCLF (Channel 22), Hearst’s independent WMOR (Channel 32), UniMas outlet WFTT (Channel 62) and Ion’s WXPX (Channel 66), all but WCLF and WFTT in the early stages of preparing for repack to new channels. (WCLF stays on 21, WFTT on 25, WMOR goes from 19 to 18, WXPX from 42 to 29; as for WTSP, it stays put on 10.)
Around a corner at the end of the hall are several smaller rooms occupied by LPTVs and by Cox’s two FMs here, which haven’t changed much since our 2011 visit – WWRM (94.9) and WPOI (101.5) still side by side in the rooms they occupied when this site was first built out at the turn of the millennium.
Head back out to the hall and upstairs, and we end up retaking pretty much the same pictures we took eight years ago: the big room at the top of the stairs that’s filled with the combiners for the six FMs here – iHeart’s three, Cox’s two and one more in a little room of its own walled off as a corner of the combiner room.
That’s community station WMNF (88.5), which also has a little studio up here just in case of emergency – and a pretty nicely built out studio, at that, with a couple of mics, CD players and decent soundproofing, too.
Want to see super-detailed pictures of all the Riverview towers? For that, we recommend the excellent pictures over at our friend Mike’s NECRAT.us site – but for our own files, at least we managed to grab a few decent images from here at the ATC site before heading down 75 to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and over to the Trop to see the Rays do their thing.
The top of the ATC candelabra itself, 1568 feet up, is always changing, what with repack and all, but in the view you see above, that’s WTSP atop WFTT on the left-hand tine, WMOR atop WXPX on the center (closest) tine, and the FM analog and HD master antennas on the right; WCLF is side-mounted lower down.
Looking north from here over the trees, we can see several of the tall towers that line up along Boyette Road: the digital transmitter of PBS outlet WEDU (Channel 3/RF 13) used to share the tower of competitor WUSF-TV (Channel 16), but WUSF sold its TV spectrum at auction, and now the former WUSF-TV license is WEDQ and channel-shares with WEDU. (Univision outlet WVEA, channel 50/RF 42, is side-mounted here; it gets even more confusing for us because Entravision swapped calls and affiliations between WVEA and WFTT not long ago.)
The other big candelabra, just down the road here, is shared by NBC affiliate WFLA-TV (Channel 8/RF 7) and ABC affiliate WFTS (Channel 28/RF 29); a third tine here used to be WFLA’s My Network sister station, WTTA (Channel 38), which also sold its spectrum and now channel-shares with WFLA.
Also visible to the east is the tower of Fox O&O WTVT (Channel 13/RF 12), and here we note that there are some missing sticks up this way these days: WTVT’s old analog tower right next to this tower has been removed since Mike last came through with the NECRAT camera, and so has the old WFLA-TV analog tower up Boyette Road.
Just west of here, behind a locked gate that leads north from Rhodine Road, is the tower whose broadcasts we’d seen most frequently in the analog era. Before WEDU put its digital facility up the road at the WUSF tower, it shared the top of this tower with independent station WTOG (Channel 44), and WTOG (now a CBS-owned CW affiliate) still uses this site as it gets ready to go from RF 44 to RF 19.
Will that transition finally mean the removal of the old analog channel 3 antenna atop WTOG’s UHF antenna? That channel 3 signal was a very, very frequent E-skip catch here in western New York back in the analog days, and it’s still neat to imagine those electrons making the long trip north to our rooftop antenna.
Thanks to Ed Allen for the tours!
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Next week: Lakeland, Florida