Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
Early May of 2021 found us riding shotgun with Lance Venta of RadioInsight, heading from his home base of New Jersey down to Virginia on a roundabout route designed to get us airchecks and baseball on the way down to our eventual destinations in Virginia.
A stop near Wilmington, Delaware to record that market’s IDs for eventual updates to TopHour.com? Yes – and thank you, Shake Shack, for a tasty lunch. Could we then have headed straight to Baltimore for that night’s Orioles game? Yes, but with a few hours to spare, we instead headed south to pick up still more IDs from the fast-changing Ocean City-Salisbury market, then back up on a diagonal route toward the Bay Bridge and Annapolis.
We didn’t stop at very many sites on this part of the trip, but we did catch at least one new one: Along Route 404 near Denton, Maryland, WKDI (840) was a latecomer to the dial, signing on in the 1980s as a daytimer. These days, it’s part of the regional Positive Alternative Radio network, simulcasting on a translator at 100.5 that’s mounted on one of the two AM towers behind the former studio building.
After an early dinner in Annapolis, the weather turned rather sour – windy and cold, with a heavy rain kicking up as we continued north toward Camden Yards. But having not seen a baseball game in person since the fall of 2019, we waited out a lengthy rain delay in the car before bundling up and taking in a few innings of Orioles-Red Sox, followed by a long drive around DC to our overnight destination in Quantico, Virginia.
The next morning dawned much clearer and warmer, with a few hours to spare before we were due to meet up with some engineering friends an hour to the south in Richmond. Just across I-95 where it crosses Quantico Creek, two small AM stations share what remains of a multiple-tower array. WPWC (1480 Dumfries-Triangle) was here first, signing on in 1962 as Quantico-licensed WQVA. It moved a few miles west to this site in 1985, and was joined in 2012 by WURA (920 Quantico), a new AM signal that is a deep rimshot to Washington with a Spanish-language format from here. (The 920 frequency had been used across the Potomac in southern Maryland before that station moved to the X-band as WPTX 1690 in Lexington Park.)
It’s hard to get a good picture of this entire array, since it’s tucked in behind trees that block a wide view – and because several of the towers here came down in 2019, leaving only three standing and both stations on extended STA operation.
There’s just enough time remaining for a quick spin around Fredericksburg, a small city that probably deserves a longer return visit. Two commercial AM-FM pairs dominate the market here, and we start at the newer one. The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star put WFLS (1350) on the air in 1960, followed two years later by WFLS-FM on 93.3. The newspaper sold the stations to Alpha in 2015, but the AM (now news-talk WNTX) and FM signals still come from the same site they’ve always used on Mountain Road, across the Rappahannock River to the east of Fredericksburg, accompanied these days by WNTX’s translator on 96.5 and an LPFM down lower on the tower, WLMP-LP (102.7). Alpha’s cluster also includes several more rimshot FMs, too far out of town for us to visit on this trip.
Long before the newspaper put WFLS on the air, Fredericksburg’s original radio voice belonged to the Fredericksburg Radio Corporation, which signed WFVA on the air in 1939 as a 250-watt daytimer on 1260, moving two years later to 1290 in the NARBA shuffle.
During World War II, WFVA successfully applied to move to 1230 as a 250-watt fulltimer, and there it remains all these years later, albeit with a power increase to 1000 watts along the way. Now owned by Centennial, WFVA is still at the same transmitter site where it signed on 82 years ago, on Mimosa Street near the banks of the Rappahannock south of the city. WFVA-FM came along here in 1960, and its aux antenna is still mounted on the AM tower; today, the FM station on 101.5 is WBQB, and its tower (which we missed on this trip) is up in the Potomac area, a couple of miles northeast of the WFLX/WNTX site.
From here, we speed down I-95 into Richmond to meet up for. a dive into TV history – join us right back here next week for the first of four installments of Richmond tower and studio sites!
2023 IS CLOSER THAN YOU THINK…
The 2023 Tower Site Calendar is in pre-production at the moment. We will be taking early-bird orders very soon!
While you’re waiting, we have some great books about broadcasting in our store.
Please browse our other items, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Delmarva and Fredericksburg IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Richmond, part I: WTVR