Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
I lost track somewhere along the way, but if this column hasn’t already marked its 20th anniversary, it’s going to hit that mark any week now. It was sometime in 2000, I think, when fybush.com launched as the new home of NorthEast Radio Watch – and in order to have something else to go along with it, I started to take some pictures from my travels, scan them (ah, the analog days of film and prints!) and write up stories about the stations I’d visited and sites I’d seen.
Even with a few weeks off now and then, that’s still a thousand or so installments of Site of the Week, isn’t it?
Somewhere along the way in the first few years of Site of the Week, we fell into a rhythm: the stories we shared ran roughly in the chronological order of our travels. Sometimes we fell behind – there was so much travel in 2001 that our recaps lasted into 2003, as I recall. Sometimes we came within a few months of being all caught up.
This, of course, is a weird year. Before everything came to a halt, we’d visited only a handful of sites in early 2020, and so for now, once we get to the end of recapping all our 2019 travels, the cupboard might be bare for a while, as it were.
Fortunately, late 2019 took us on an extensive swing through new turf: we have lots of Texas towers and studios to show you over the rest of the summer, from Waco down through Temple to San Antonio, across to Houston, up to College Station, over to Tyler and Kilgore, and thence to Dallas and Fort Worth. By the time we get done recapping all that, we hope we’ll be back on the road and lining up new sites to show you again for 2020 and beyond.
But before we get to all of that… can we rewind slightly?
You see, in our recaps of some of our earlier 2019 travel, we completely left out one set of pictures!
While our July stop in San Diego was mostly for family activities, we always seem to be able to find a little time to sneak away and see some radio, don’t we?
Our excursion last July was to catch up with good friend Scottie Rice, chief engineer of San Diego’s jazz station, KSDS (88.3). We’d seen his studios at San Diego City College on an earlier visit, but hadn’t made it up to his transmitter site yet, at the campus of City College’s sister, Mesa College.
KSDS is an old FM station, especially in this part of the world: it signed on in 1952 at 91.7 on the dial from City College’s original location, the “Grey Castle” San Diego High School building near Balboa Park north of downtown, adjacent to the site where City College’s modern buildings and KSDS’ studio now sit. After just a few months, KSDS moved to 88.3 and has been there ever since – but not from the Balboa Park location.
Once Mesa College opened in the 1960s, its elevated location (it sits, literally, on a prominent mesa in the Clairemont Mesa neighborhood a few miles north of City College) made it a natural spot for a better KSDS site, and since 1965 the 88.3 signal has served San Diego from up here. The campus, in classic California fashion, is mostly outdoors, with the KSDS transmitter tucked away in one room along a row of offices and utility rooms in the “J” building.
It’s all Harris in the transmitter room these days, main and backup – but the secret weapon here, Scottie says, is the Wheatstone X3 processor (later supplanted by the new X5) that has helped him overcome some bad multipath issues that have long plagued the KSDS signal. (Note the vertical-only antenna elements: for many years, KSDS was involved in a border war over protecting the signal of Mexican-licensed XETV channel 6, 20 miles to the south in Tijuana and just a few hundred kHz down on the RF spectrum. It was a big deal for KSDS to get a power increase to 22 kW a decade or so ago.)
One more photo finished off these “lost” California images: our family fun last year included some bits of classic Los Angeles tourism. A drive up the hills to the Griffith Observatory? Absolutely – and that also gave us a chance to look above the Hollywood sign to get some pictures of Mount Lee. These days, it’s a tightly-secured police communications site, but in the 1930s it was the West Coast’s pioneering TV transmitter site, home of car dealer Don Lee’s experimental W6XAO, which became KTSL once commercial TV started. (It was an early FM site, too, for the FM outlet of Lee’s KHJ.)
By 1951, KTSL had moved up to Mount Wilson (it’s today’s KCBS-TV), and the broadcast era here had ended – but the history is magnificent, and so is the view.
Thanks to Scottie Rice for the KSDS tour!
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 IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: We start our Texas 2019 recap in Waco – for real!