Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Back when you could just drive through another country to get across the Great Lakes, one of our family trips last summer took us across southern Ontario and over the Blue Water Bridge from Sarnia, Ontario into Port Huron, Michigan on the way down to our usual Indiana sojourn.
And while we’d been in Port Huron several times before to look at the small city’s interesting collection of tower sites, we’d never stopped in to actually visit the broadcast cluster where most of their studios are located.
Turn south off the first exit from the bridge and you’ll shoot straight down Pine Grove Avenue through Port Huron’s downtown – and when you get to the corner where Pine Grove meets Huron and Glenwood Avenues, you’ll find yourself in front of the Liggett Broadcasting “Radio First” studios.
This is one of those neat buildings that started out housing just one station – WHLS (1450), Port Huron’s original radio station – but grew over the years to add an FM (now WSAQ 107.1), then a bunch more signals when Robert Liggett acquired not only WHLS/WSAQ but also its crosstown competitors in 2000. Within a year, WPHM (1380) and sister stations WHYT (1590 Marine City) and WBTI (96.9 Lexington) had moved in to an expanded building here at 808 Huron, with the main entrance relocated to the Glenwood side and a new lobby and studio wing.
Let’s go for a late-afternoon tour, shall we? Heading in from the lobby, which is filled with memorabilia from the histories of WHLS and WPHM (right back to 1380’s early days as WTTH, the radio station of Port Huron’s Times Herald newspaper), we pass production rooms and staff offices on the way back to the row of studios that face out to Huron Avenue.
WSAQ is the big country FM in the cluster, with a live jock holding down the fort on “Q Country” when we get a peek at the corner studio.
Hey wait – where’s the board? These stations have an unusual engineering setup, selecting and firing off nearly all their on-air sources from their automation touchscreen.
Each studio does have an Logitek board tucked away in a sliding drawer for those occasions when levels do need to be adjusted on the fly – but they don’t get used much at the music stations, says our tour guide, WPHM morning newsman Caleb Gordon.
WPHM is the big news-talk voice in the cluster, and its studio features space for a big morning show full of local newsmakers, plus a heavy emphasis on sports.
WHLS, meanwhile, has an unusual format for the oldest AM in town, dating back to 1938. (It was founded by H.L. Stevens, started on 1370, and moved to 1450 instead of the expected 1400 in the 1941 NARBA shuffle as part of a bigger realignment that moved several would-be 1400s in places such as Fort Wayne, Indiana to 1450, while stations in places such as Detroit that would have gone to 1450 went to 1400 instead. Why? To make room for a new station in Kokomo, Indiana on 1400!)
Anyway – WHLS now does rock as “Rock 105.5,” with the AM being used primarily to feed a translator that covers the city quite well.
The WHLS studio (now used mainly for high school sports) sits next to the WPHM newsroom – where one desk is now used as the “studio” for the other AM/translator pair in the cluster, WHLX (1590), which feeds an eclectic Americana format (“The Hills”) to a Port Huron translator on 92.7.
And at the end of the hallway, as we round the corner to the original part of the building, we find the top-40 format in the cluster, rimshotter WBTI (96.9).
(Check out the wall art – that’s what the 808 Huron building used to look like, before Liggett expanded it as “Radio First!”)
We have some bonus content in this week’s installment, too – before we headed west down the 401 and the 402 to get to the Blue Water Bridge and Port Huron, we made our usual August stop in Belleville, Ontario to see our friend Freddy Vette and hang out on his afternoon oldies show at CJBQ (800).
Getting to CJBQ a little earlier in the day than usual gave us the chance to see a little more of the Quinte Broadcasting cluster.
This time, we got a nice peek at Quinte’s rack room, including the back end of all that Wheatstone Wheatnet gear that powers the studios, plus the Canadian version of EAS and some microwave STL gear on frequencies we can’t use here on the US side of the lake.
And as we headed west the next day after an overnight stop near Pearson Airport in Toronto, we made a stop to see what was then the newest AM signal in the greater Toronto area.
CKNT (960 Mississauga) squeezed onto the dial after a larger 960, CIAM over in Cambridge, moved to FM almost two decades ago. (The old CIAM became CIZN on 92.9, and then moved to 107.5 where it’s now CJDV.)
The new 960 is a non-directional signal using a little Valcom whip in an industrial area near the airport. It’s since been joined by two more new AMs in the region: there’s a new 1350 in Brampton, also with a Valcom whip, and on 1220, CFAJ in St. Catharines has resurrected the old CHSC site. We’ll need to get back there, once we can, to document those rare new Canadian AM facilities, too!
Thanks to WPHM’s Caleb Gordon for the tours!
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