Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’re nearing the end of our recap of what turns out, at least for now, to be the last “big trip” in our archives to chronicle for you. We didn’t know, of course, that our big loop around the eastern half of Texas ahead of the Radio Show in Dallas in September 2019 would be the last such travel we’d be able to do for well over a year, and perhaps longer.
It’s not as though we have absolutely nothing to show you from 2020; we’ve managed to do some short, socially-distanced driving trips, especially during the summer lull in the pandemic. But we may not be able to offer you brand-new weekly installments of this feature every week beyond early 2021, and so we’ll be a little slow in parceling out what’s left in the archives for now – which means we won’t actually get to the last couple of Texas installments until after our holiday break, while we use this space to present to you some of the highlights of the all-new Tower Site Calendar 2021 and evaluate how best to spread out the features we’ll still have for you in the new year.
But enough of that for the moment: here in Site of the Week-land, it’s still September 2019, the pandemic hasn’t happened yet, and we’re waking up to a cloudy sky in Tyler, Texas, with a couple of hours to look around town before we have to make the 90-minute drive west to Dallas and the Radio Show.
Tyler is the commercial hub of the I-20 corridor in East Texas, the financial and retail center for a big swath of piney oil country, equidistant from Dallas to the west and Shreveport, Louisiana to the east.
Like so many small Texas cities (and there are a lot of them we still haven’t been to yet!), Tyler’s compact downtown is surrounded by a loop road (Loop 323, in this case), four lanes of commercial sprawl that encircles the city. To orient you a bit, we started our day on the southeastern corner of that loop, headed a few miles outside the loop to a site near Bascom, Texas, home to the second-oldest AM station in Tyler.
KTBB (600) signed on in 1947 as a 500-watt daytimer and gradually boosted power, moving around a bit before landing at this five-tower site in the early 1980s. It’s two towers by day with 5000 watts, four towers and 2500 watts at night, with a news-talk format that’s simulcast these days on KTBB-FM (97.5 Troup), rimshotting Tyler from the east and carrying the signal out to Longview and Marshall, the other good-sized cities in the region.
There are two FM sites out here to the southeast near the 600 site, on opposite sides of Old Omen Road: KISX (107.3 Whitehouse) is on the south side, part of Townsquare’s cluster; on the north side, it’s KGLY (91.3 Tyler), part of a locally-run Christian cluster of stations that also includes KVNE (89.5), which has an aux on the KGLY tower backing up its main site north of Tyler.
Most of the rest of what we’ll see in our quick visit to Tyler can be found right on Loop 323 as it works its way down the east side of town.
What’s now religious KGLD (1330) sits on the east side of 323 near Morningside Drive, a spot where this signal has been since it signed on back in 1956. (It’s had a bunch of calls over the years: KDOK, the calls now used to the east in Kilgore; KZWA; KTYL (now on FM) and now KGLD.
Almost directly across 323 is the tower (and, I think, former studio) of what’s now KYZS (1490), the oldest AM license in town.
As KGKB, this station started up in 1927 way way out west in Goldthwaite and then Brownwood, Texas, 120 miles southwest of Fort Worth. In 1931, KGKB (then on 1500) packed up and moved to Tyler, where it ended up after the war in the hands of Lucille Ross Buford, who became the first woman to own her own TV station with the 1954 debut of KLTV (Channel 7), operating (along with the KGKB studios) from a former airport hangar not far from here along Loop 323 at Old Kilgore Road. (There’s a gas station at that site now.)
The KDOK calls ended up on 1490 around the time it moved its tower and studio over here to this spot on the west side of 323; these days, it’s a sister station to KTBB as “ESPN East Texas,” with a translator here on 95.7. The top of this tower has another sister station on it, the former KGLD-FM/KTBB-FM (92.1) that’s now KRWR, also doing sports as “The Team.”
Continuing south on Loop 323 past the original KLTV site (and don’t we wish we’d been able to see it in its heyday, when it boasted not only the converted hangar/studio but also the original channel 7 tower, all gone now), we come to the southeast corner of the loop and the studios of the CBS affiliate for the market.
KYTX (Channel 19) completed the Big Four roster of affiliates for the market when it flipped the switch on CBS in 2004. Would you believe this was the third try at a CBS affiliate around here? The original UHF station in Tyler, KTVE (Channel 32), was a CBS station, but it folded quickly in the 1950s, as so many Us did. As we noted in last week’s visit to the Texas Broadcast Museum, the ambitious KLMG (Channel 51) in Longview tried with CBS in the early 1980s, and that’s when channel 19 was first licensed to Nacogdoches as part of a planned East Texas Television Network.
After KLMG went bankrupt, the channel 19 permit ended up with the NBC station in the market, KETK (Channel 56) in Jacksonville, south of Tyler. KETK put channel 19 on as KLSB, a satellite station to serve the Lufkin-Nacogdoches area an hour south of here.
And then, in 2003-04, Max Media bought channel 19, put up a tall tower near New Summerfield to boost its signal toward Tyler and the I-20 corridor, bought a former movie theater here on 323, and thus was KYTX born. (It’s now a Tegna station.)
Tyler’s two big radio clusters are both headquartered here off 323, too, at the south end of town: KTBB and its Gleiser Communications sister stations are in an otherwise-unmarked office building right on the loop, while the Townsquare cluster is just to the west in an office park just north of the loop: R&B KISX (107.3), country KNUE (101.5), classic rock KKTX (104.7 Kilgore) and top-40 “Mix” KTYL (93.1).
If we’d had more time, we’d have taken some longer drives out to the south and east to see some of those transmitter sites – KNUE and KTYL, for instance, are out near Overton, half an hour to the east, on the tower of Channel 51, which survived the KLMG bankruptcy and eventually became today’s Fox affiliate for the region as KFXK.
It’s operated under a shared-services agreement with Nexstar’s KETK (Channel 56), the NBC affiliate, sharing a studio building on the south side of Loop 323.
And from here, our path to I-20 and Dallas takes us through downtown Tyler, where you can still see the effects of the oil money that made this area a boomtown in the early 20th century (that lovely Art Deco tower shown above is the People’s Petroleum Building, just as one example.)
Look to the right here in Tyler City Square and you’ll see the current KLTV studios, in use since the station’s 1996 move from its original home on the east side of Loop 323. Now owned by Gray Television, KLTV is the ABC affiliate for the market, the last affiliation it retained from its early years as a three-network affiliate back when it was the only game in town.
Well, almost the only game in town: one of the reasons this sprawling market includes Lufkin and Nacogdoches, an hour and a half away to the south, is because KLTV operates semi-satellite station KTRE channel 9 down there. This may also explain why KLTV is the only TV station with its transmitter north of town; we’d love to get there someday – but with the Radio Show getting started, we instead jumped on I-20 and headed west to the big D.
The 2022 Tower Site Calendar is coming soon, and it’s going to make a big splash!
Actually a big boom.
This year’s calendar will focus on the 100th anniversary of America’s radio boom, when the industry really took off and stations erupted all over the country.
More details and ordering information coming soon!
And don’t miss a big batch of East Texas IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: The Best of the 2021 Tower Site Calendar