Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Back in the days when there were conventions, back in the days when we traveled places, there were sometimes off-site parties – and at the last Radio Show that actually happened, back in September 2019 in Dallas, one of those evening events happened 20 miles or so south of the convention hotel, at the Cedar Hill tower farm that provides the Dallas-Fort Worth market with most of its FM and TV service.
There was a bus from the hotel, of course – but if we’d used that mode of transportation, we wouldn’t have been able to connect with an engineering friend from another radio cluster in town to go check out some of her company’s transmitter sites before the party.
We’d been down to Cedar Hill several times before, admiring the forest of very tall towers (several of them at or just under 1600 feet) that dot Belt Line Road and US 67 down here at the southern fringe of Dallas-Fort Worth suburban sprawl, and we’ve chronicled at least some of the history here on those earlier Site of the Week segments: how in the mid-1950s, Dallas’ KRLD-TV and WFAA-TV partnered to build the first tall candelabra down here, at one of the highest spots in the region, which also happened to be roughly equidistant to Fort Worth and Dallas and was far enough from the airports to allow for tall towers to be built.
Once the two Dallas TV stations expanded their signals down here, NBC leaned hard on its Fort Worth-based affiliate, WBAP-TV, to join the Dallas CBS and ABC stations on the candelabra. Fort Worth’s independent, KTVT (Channel 11, ex-KFJZ-TV) and the Dallas-based educational station, KERA (Channel 13), later built their own tower – and then the floodgates opened. UHF independent stations built new towers down here as they signed on, FM stations began building their own sticks, and eventually the original candelabra stations built taller new towers.
The original “Hill Tower” complex from 1955 sits at what’s now the western edge of the tower farm, most of which sprawls out south of West Belt Line Road and west of US 67 and historic Cedar Hill. One of the biggest clusters of towers in the farm also bears the most colorful names: the tall towers right by Belt Line east of the Hill Tower complex are known locally as the “Thomas,” “Milton” and “Cowboy” towers.
Milton and Cowboy share a driveway on Belt Line (and a common owner these days, American Tower), and it’s Cowboy that is the subject of this week’s installment.
At just over 1600 feet tall, this is one of the newer towers in the northern part of the farm, having gone up just before the turn of the century to provide more vertical real estate for the DTV transition and for more FM stations.
Fort Worth-licensed KFWD (Channel 52) moved its DTV signal here from Fort Worth, where it had started out in analog on the old WBAP-TV tower on Broadcast Hill; Pax-owned KPXD (Channel 68) operated in digital here, too, until transition.
But it was for FM that Cowboy really ended up finding its main purpose. Ten of the market’s 18 Cedar Hill class C commercial signals ended up moving in here, all lined up neatly in small rooms along both sides of a hallway in one of the two big buildings at the tower base. Five of them belong to iHeart, and among them they share four rooms, with KDGE (102.1) and KDMX (102.9) paired up in one larger room near the end of the hallway.
This room also has a little acoustical booth at one end, with just barely enough of a board and automation inside to be a very-last-ditch emergency studio if the zombies attack.
The other three iHeart FMs each have their own rooms, and it’s a near duplicate for two of them: KZPS (92.5) is shown above, KHKS (106.1) below, with nearly identical setups of dual main analog transmitters and separate HD transmitters.
KEGL (97.1) is the outlier here with its locally-built Continental analog transmitters, arranged next to another BE HD transmitter like the ones down the hall on 92.5 and 106.1.
We didn’t see the other FMs along the hallway: city-owned WRR (101.1), Salem’s KLTY (94.9), Entercom’s KLUV (98.7) and KVIL (103.7) and Service Broadcasting’s KKDA-FM (104.5) each have their own rooms, too, along the corridor leading down to the big combiner room at the end of the hall. (You can see some of the modifications that were made here to make it work for HD!)
The TV occupants of the tower are located in the other building that we didn’t see. These days, that’s the original TV station here, KFWD (Channel 52/RF 9), now owned by RNN and mostly showing infomercials, and Estrella-owned KMPX (Channel 29/RF 30).
After our visit, Estrella sold KMPX to Tegna, which is now using its UHF signal to augment the sometimes-challenging VHF signal of its ABC station, WFAA (Channel 8). It’s KFWD and KMPX up on the candelabra tines now, and I think the third one may be vacant at the moment since Ion moved KPXD to another tower in the farm.
There are several LPTVs here, including the market’s Franken-FM on channel 6, KZFW-LP – and then the FMs all share an 8-bay Harris CBR panel antenna that wraps around the tower just below the candelabra. When it went into service, it gave most of those stations height boosts of 300 feet or so above where they’d been in their previous homes. Some (102.1, 102.9, 103.7) moved from the “Susquehanna tower” south of the Hill Tower; most of the rest made the shorter trip east from the “Milton” tower, which was originally crowned by a candelabra for three of the original UHF stations in town, KTXA (Channel 21), KDFI (Channel 27) and KNBN (Channel 33).
A few years ago, American Tower responded to the impending DTV repack and the departure of those original UHF stations to new towers by rebuilding the Milton tower. The candelabra came off, replaced by a new stacked antenna used by several newer UHF stations, Daystar’s KDTN (Channel 2), Univision’s KUVN (Channel 23), Sinclair’s KTXD (Channel 47) and TBN’s KDTX (Channel 58). Lower down on the tower are several FM antennas that serve as primary facilities for religious KCBI (90.9) and Univision’s KLNO (94.1), as well as several auxes for the Cowboy stations.
From here, there was still a party waiting for us – and more transmitter site visits, too! Join us next week as we head down US 67 to “Cedar Hill South,” won’t you?
Thanks to iHeart’s DFW engineering staff for the tours!
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Next week: Cedar Hill South