Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We love a good tall-tower farm, and there are few out there that are bigger or more impressive than the six huge sites that provide most of the FM and TV service for the enormous Houston market. While Houston sprawls out for dozens of miles in all directions from its downtown (which does exist, and we’ll show it to you in an upcoming Site of the Week installment as we recap our 2019 visit there), its tower farm is somewhat off-center, southwest of Houston in an unincorporated part of Fort Bend County near Missouri City.
There’s a reason for that off-center placement: when these towers began going up here in 1963-64, the FAA wanted to keep the tall towers away from the flight paths into and out of Houston’s established Hobby Airport, southeast of the city, and its new Intercontinental (now George Bush) Airport, up to the north.
We’ll get to some of that history in a moment, but first let’s go inside the second of the six sites at which we can show you some of the inside. Just south of the “Senior Road” tower we showed you extensively last week, there’s a tall candelabra tower that’s still known as the “Richland Tower,” though it’s now owned by American Tower.
This site serves as the backup facility for most of the FMs on the Senior Road tower: Entercom’s KKHH (95.7), KHMX (96.5), KILT-FM (100.3) and KLOL (101.1), Cumulus’ KRBE (104.1), iHeart’s KTBZ (94.5) and KODA (99.1) all have transmitters here – but unlike up the road at “Senior Road,” these transmitters don’t have rooms of their own, just one huge space filled with transmitters (and with a big combiner space upstairs!)
This is just one of two big buildings at this site; a second one is full of DTV transmitters, including full-power signals from TBN’s KETH (Channel 14/RF 24), Daystar’s KLTJ (Channel 22/RF 23), independent KUBE-TV (Channel 57/RF 31) and Univision/Telefutura’s KFTH (Channel 67/RF 36). We also saw a space here that was to become the new home of public TV and radio, KUHT (Channel 8) and KUHF (88.7).
This is also as good a spot as any from which to get a broader overview of this tower farm, which is easier to observe from a distance than it is to see up close. In broad strokes, the farm is made up of six tower sites in two north-south rows of three each, divided fairly recently down the middle by the construction of the Fort Bend Tollway.
On the west side of the tollway, it’s the Senior Road FM tower (actually closer to McHard Road, aka Texas Parkway) that is the northernmost stick, with the “Richland” site to the south, and then another American Tower candelabra another half-mile to the south (but it’s a long drive up to McHard Road and then weaving through newer suburban subdivisions to get to the road that leads to that southernmost site on the west side.)
Looking eastward across the tollway from the Richland site, the vista from north to south includes the “Teletower” site, a pair of closely-spaced tall towers, then a candelabra that’s home to NBC affiliate KPRC (Channel 2/RF 35), and then the southernmost tower in the farm, home to CBS affiliate KHOU (Channel 11).
We didn’t get in to any of the other sites, and they’re pretty well gated off these days, but on our first morning here – and then again later on the next day – we drove around the area enough to get a closer look at what’s high in the sky here.
Is it time for some history? It’s always time for history here – and it goes like this: before the early 1960s, the Houston market was more compact, with its TV stations scattered around the area on shorter towers. KPRC-TV (Channel 2) had been first in town, transmitting from a site behind its Post Oak Road studios on the west side. KHOU (Channel 11) was the second commercial signal to survive, though its original city of license was in Galveston, way out on the Gulf to the southeast, and so it ended up at a tower site in Alvin, in Houston’s then-distant southeast suburbs. ABC affiliate KTRK (Channel 13) had its studios on the University of Houston campus, in a building originally built for failed early UHF KNUZ-TV (Channel 39) and on a tower shared with the university’s educational station, KUHT (Channel 8).
The consolidation of TV into the Missouri City tower farm started at two sites on the east side in the early 1960s: KTRK built its own 1400-foot tower off McHard Road (a site then described as “Blue Ridge Road, near Almeda”), while KPRC-TV and KHOU partnered for a candelabra on Senior Road, a couple of miles south, a site sometimes called “DeWalt,” for a nearby hamlet.
That original KTRK tower site still exists (and yet we somehow didn’t get any good pictures of it), a little to the east of the rest of the tower farm. In the early 1980s, it was replaced by two towers at what’s now called “Teletower,” and it has lots of new antennas and nearby company: this pair of 1800-footers is home not only to KTRK, now an ABC O&O outlet, but also to Fox’s KRIV (Channel 26, formerly on One Shell Plaza downtown), to KUHT/KUHF (for now), to iHeart’s KQBT (93.7) and to Radio One’s KMJQ (102.1).
The mid-1980s found KPRC-TV joining forces with Gaylord’s independent KHTV (Channel 39) to build a new 2000-foot candelabra just south of the Teletower site, down a private oil company road. This tower still houses KPRC-TV, channel 39 (now Nexstar CW affiliate KIAH, on RF 34), and, on the third tine of the candelabra, religious KHCB-FM (105.7), about which we’ll see more in a future installment. Cox also has auxes here for its KKBQ (92.9) and KGLK (107.5).
(We also get a great view across the tollway to the Richland tower from this side!)
Still with us? Here are a couple of additional wide views before we move on – first, the view from the tollway on-ramp looking south from McHard Road shows us the KPRC and KHOU towers on the left, and on the right the ATC candelabra, the Richland site and the Senior Road FM site.
We didn’t get very close to the American Tower candelabra, which has a Senior Road mailing address even though the part of Senior Road where it once sat was wiped out by new housing developments and the tollway. (This is also, ironically, the site originally proposed for what became the “Senior Road” FM tower, two decades before this 2000-footer went up in 2000.)
This tower is full of smaller UHF outlets: Fox-owned My outlet KTXH (Channel 20/RF 19), Univision’s KXLN (Channel 45/RF 30), Telemundo’s KTMD (Channel 47/RF 22), Azteca’s KYAZ (Channel 51/RF 25), independent KUBE-TV (Channel 57/RF 33) and Estrella’s KZJL (Channel 61/RF 21), as well as auxes for iHeart’s KQBT.
And we finish up, looping around subdivisions and over the tollway, at the stub of what’s left of Senior Road itself, now a wooded road just east of the tollway that dead-ends at the gate into the site that was originally the 1964 candelabra for KPRC and KHOU.
While they were later joined at that site by KHTV (Channel 39), the candelabra tower was eventually replaced, early in the DTV era, with the current 1850-foot tower that still carries KHOU’s channel 11 signal, as well as Ion’s KPXB (Channel 49/RF 32.)
From down here at the KHOU gate, we can look north to see the ATC tower on the left (with Richland and Senior Road off in the distance), and the KPRC and Teletower sites off in the distance on the right.
It’s quite a view!
Thanks to Entercom’s Robbie Green for the tours!
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Next week: Houston’s AM sites