Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When we left off last week’s installment of our trip to Charleston, South Carolina from the end of last December, we still hadn’t made it westward across the Cooper River from Mount Pleasant. We’re almost there now – but for one more studio, that of Charleston’s ABC affiliate, WCIV.
Were you paying attention to last week’s history lesson? If you were, you know that this Sinclair-owned property gave up its old virtual channel 4 license to stay under market ownership caps; today, “ABC 4 News” and the rest of the Alphabet Network lineup appear for over-the-air viewers on the 36.2 subchannel of what’s otherwise the MyNetwork TV signal in town. (“Channel 36” used to be WMMZ, which I learned last week came from its former Max Media ownership; now it has the WCIV calls that came from “channel 4,” but it’s still My on 36.1 and ABC on 36.2.)
For much of its existence, WCIV had both studio and transmitter on the south side of Mount Pleasant (a facility later used by WMMZ), but these days the WCIV studio is along the US 17 bypass, on a side road called “Allbritton Boulevard,” named for the days when Allbritton Communications owned this station.
So now we finally drive over the Ravenel Bridge and explore historic downtown Charleston, right?
Not quite so fast: from here, we can either go west on 17 into downtown, or north on I-526, the ring road around Charleston that hugs the west shore of the Cooper River for a few miles before finally turning west toward North Charleston. It’s up here, amidst the naval yard and oil refineries where O’Hear Avenue crosses Noisette Creek, where we find the two towers of WTMZ (910 Dorchester Terrace). This is part of the “Charleston Sports Radio” ESPN Radio simulcast that also includes a translator on 94.7 and full-power WWIK (98.9 McClellanville), back up 17 halfway to Georgetown. (CSR also has a second sports signal in town, “The Zone” WQSC 1340, plus a 98.5 translator; the 1340 tower is a few miles southwest of here along the Ashley River on the other side of the Charleston peninsula.)
Now that we’re on the hunt for Charleston’s AM sites, the route takes us south down SC 7 across the Ashley River, where the two oldest AMs in town are now diplexed into three towers that sit in the marshes just southwest of the SC 7 bridge.
This site, accessed from land at the end of Orange Branch Road in a suburban neighborhood, belonged first to WCSC (1390), which moved here (to what was then “Ashley Hall Plantation”) way back in 1946. WCSC had already been around since 1930, operating on 1310 from a site downtown and then on 1360/1390 from a site on “Savannah Highway” (US 17) over here on the west side of the Ashley.
After eventually being sold away from WCSC-TV (Channel 5), 1390 became WSPO, and these days it’s owned by Saga, carrying a gospel format as “Heaven 1390/100.1.”
WTMA (1250) is another pre-World War II station here, having started on 1210 back in 1938. While most 1210s moved to 1240 with the NARBA realignment in 1941, WTMA already had an application in to move to 1220 pre-NARBA, which became 1250 post-NARBA. It wasn’t until 1948 that WTMA was able to build out its full 5 kW day/1 kW night 1250 facility, which was also in the marshes along the west shore of the Cooper, a mile or so east of the WCSC site at the end of Orange Grove Road. That site endured until 2011, when Cumulus moved WTMA to its current diplex with 1390.
While we’re still over here west of the Ashley, let’s stop for a look at where WCSC-TV ended up. For most of its life as the city’s pioneer TV station, channel 5 was right there in downtown Charleston, at first with both studio and tower at 485 East Bay Street, right by the Cooper River. As we noted last week, its tower moved twice, first to Mount Pleasant, then to the tower farm up in Awendaw in the 1980s. Charleston’s public TV station, WITV (Channel 7), started out at the East Bay Street tower as well, eventually following WCSC first to Mount Pleasant and then to Awendaw.
The WCSC studios stayed on East Bay Street longer, but by 1997 they too decamped for the suburbs, heading to West Ashley and a spot just west of where I-526 meets up with US 17 on the west side.
The street address here is “Charlie Hall Boulevard,” named for the announcer who signed on WCSC back in 1953 and became its signature weatherman for more than 40 years.
(It’s not far at all, by the way, from where WCSC radio had its transmitter in the 1930s and 1940s.)
If you turn on WCSC at 11:35 any weeknight, you’ll see the most famous TV personality to hail from Charleston. Did a young Stephen Colbert ever visit WCSC? It would have been an easy walk or bike ride from the mansion at 39 Bay Street where he grew up; today, tourists are constantly walking past the house and most of them have no idea about the TV comedy history that began there.
After spending some time walking around the historic district, it’s time to start the last leg of our journey down to Florida for New Year’s, but not before making just a handful of additional stops once we’re again west of the Ashley River.
Charleston’s Catholic radio station is WLTQ (730), and like most of the AMs here it’s in marshland along a river. In this case, it’s the Stono River, which separates this West Ashley area from James Island and Johns Island along the coast. The 5 kW daytime signal from this non-directional site gets out quite well up and down the coast, and we can keep hearing it most of the rest of our drive down toward Jacksonville. (And of course several Jacksonville stations, especially blowtorch WOKV 690, likewise pump big signals back north up the coast to here.)
On the way down US 17 to make the turn for the WLTQ site, we pass the little office suite where Charleston Sports Radio is located. And somewhere along the way as we were driving around North Charleston, the frontage road along the I-526 loop also yielded a quick stop to see the offices and studio of the Fox station, WTAT (Channel 24).
(But if you’re watching the 10 PM news on WTAT, it doesn’t come from this building, as best I can tell; WTAT is owned by Cunningham, the sister shell company to Sinclair, and so WTAT’s news, master control and other functions all come from over at Sinclair’s WCIV.)
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 South Carolina IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Miami, 2019