Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
What’s Waco, Texas known for? Yes, there was that Branch Davidian incident back in 1993, though that really happened 13 miles away near Axtell, Texas. (But there’s a broadcast connection: several of you wrote in after our glancing mention last week of having skipped KBBW 1010’s site to point out we actually skipped two KBBW sites, day and night – and that an attempt to take monitoring point readings on KBBW was hindered when the raid got in the way of access to one of the monitor points. So, yes, we’ll make KBBW a priority whenever we can visit Texas again!)
There are the Baylor Bears, and it’s hard to miss their enormous stadium as you drive through Waco. More recently, HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines have made Waco the home base for their attempt to decorate the entire known universe in shiplap paneling, which has made the city a destination for their fans.
And if you’re married to a soda fiend, perhaps you also know that Waco is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper, a fact that’s commemorated on the edge of downtown at the Dr. Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, a complex of buildings that includes the original Dr. Pepper bottling plant.
We weren’t about to miss the chance to spend an hour or two here, learning about the history not only of Dr. Pepper (including its many creative ad campaigns) but also of the soda industry in general, including informative exhibits about 7-Up, Big Red and some more obscure brands.
And yes, there was at least one radio connection – one display of Dr. Pepper memorabilia included a bumper sticker from KYST (920 Texas City), the Houston rimshotter that famously spent some time as an all-Beatles signal calling itself “KBTL” in the early 1980s.
With a lot more on our Texas agenda and not enough days to see it all, we didn’t arrange for any studio tours in Waco, but we at least drove past most of the big ones on our way in and out of the city.
Waco’s southwest side is where most of the action is: out along the US 84 expressway, the studios of Nexstar-owned Fox affiliate KWKT (Channel 44) sit on a frontage road; this is also the studio for KYLE-TV (Channel 28), the MyNetwork affiliate, which broadcasts from Bryan, 75 miles away to the southeast in the Brazos Valley.
(Bryan and neighboring College Station are combined with the Waco-Temple-Killeen area in one of those only-in-Nielsen’s-imagination TV markets – you can’t see Waco TV in Bryan, or vice versa. It’s only because Bryan’s big heritage station, KBTX, is a satellite of Waco’s KWTX-TV that they ended up combined – and we’ll see more of that a few installments from now when we get to the Brazos Valley.)
For several decades, Waco-Temple was a two-station market, with ABC left to secondary affiliations on the two big stations or distant antenna reception from Dallas or Austin. It wasn’t until 1985 that a third commercial station signed on, KXXV (Channel 25), briefly taking the NBC affiliation before flipping to ABC later that year. It’s now a Scripps station after some horse trading involving the Gray/Raycom merger, and its studios are on New Road just northwest of the interchange between I-35 and the Texas 6 loop around the south side of Waco. (KWKT followed in 1988 and has always been the Fox outlet here.)
The established player in Waco is CBS affiliate KWTX-TV (Channel 10), and it’s right between KWKT and KWTX in a big studio building on American Plaza, just off the 6 loop near US 84.
KWTX is the oldest surviving TV station in town, but not the first. KANG-TV (Channel 34) was born in 1953 and lasted just two years, eventually selling out to KWTX and going dark once the FCC granted the channel 10 construction permit. Gray owns the station these days, and recently acquired a second station in the market, former PBS outlet KNCT-TV (Channel 46), from Central Texas College. (KNCT-TV now carries the CW as “CW 12,” reflecting its cable position in the market.)
Just a short distance west of KWTX-TV’s studio along the 6 loop is the studio building of iHeart’s cluster in the Waco and Temple markets, four FMs, a translator and an AM, including KWTX (1230) and KWTX-FM (97.5) and WACO-FM (99.9). This building, I’m told, was the WACO building – and was originally built to house a TV station, too, as WACO radio competed with KWTX for that channel 10 license back in the 1950s.
The tower out back was once WACO-FM’s, I believe – and still holds auxes for WACO-FM, KWTX-FM and sister station “Bear” KBRQ (102.5 Hillsborough), as well as the main antennas for “Big” KBGO (95.7) and for Baylor’s KWBU (103.3), as well as the iHeart translator on 95.1 that carries KBGO’s HD2 as “Z95.1.”
(If you’re scoring at home, that’s KBGO on the six-bay ERI at the top of the tower, the auxes combined into the little one-bay Bext below it, and KWBU on a four-bay antenna that’s tucked away on the right side of the tower in this shot, I think.)
We’re already behind schedule as we jump on I-35 south to head out of Waco, so we don’t spend a lot of time seeing the stations of Temple, the smaller city about 30 miles to the south. (We’re distracted along the way, too, by our first stop at Buc-ees, the legendary mega-convenience store chain that has fast become a Texas roadside institution.)
There’s not much AM here: KTEM (1400) is the local heritage AM, now owned by Townsquare with a news-talk format, with a transmitter site near Lions Park on the southwest side of town.
KTON (1330) carries the callsign that was long on 940 in Belton, south of Temple, but the current 1330 facility east of Loop 363, the ring road around Temple, is a relatively recent move-in that remains licensed to Cameron, 27 miles away to the southeast.
(And while there’s an AM licensed to Killeen, 20 miles or so to the west along recently-designated Interstate 14, KRMY 1050 appeared to be off the air when we tried to tune it in.)
In the heart of downtown Temple, we find the oldest station in the market, NBC affiliate KCEN (Channel 6). Though licensed to Temple and co-owned with KTEM and the local paper for many decades, KCEN targeted all of “CENtral Texas” for its entire history, with studios located in Eddy, off I-35 between Temple and Waco, and a tall tower just east of 35. It’s only in the last few years that the current ownership, Tegna, moved KCEN’s studios to a former church building right in Temple, so the oldest station in the area also has the newest studio building.
From here, we’re off to a very late lunch in Austin – and then our first glimpses of San Antonio, which we’ll show you starting next week!
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Next week: San Antonio, Part I