Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
When you’re headed south along the East Coast in a hurry, you stay inland and confront all the traffic on I-95. When you’re headed south along the East Coast and you’re not in a hurry… well, that’s when you take the route that we took last fall with Lance Venta of RadioInsight, enjoying the enforced leisure of the slow drive down US 113 and US 13 along the Delmarva Peninsula.
Once you’re south of Salisbury, the last biggish city on the Peninsula, it’s a lot of small towns and farmland, and this time around we got to see it in daylight heading south, instead of in the darkness heading north as we were the last time we made this drive a few years earlier.
In our case this time, we found ourselves coming back in from the coast along Route 113 heading into Pocomoke City, the last town in Maryland before crossing the line into Virginia. There’s an FM signal here, WBBX (106.1), that’s been around since the early 1990s, currently playing classic hits as “B106.1” from its site just east of town on 113 – and there’s a venerable AM station, now WGOP (540), that’s been at the same spot west of town ever since it came on the air in 1955 as WDMV.
Now owned by Birach Broadcasting of Michigan, WGOP was off the air last fall when we came this way, and we soon saw why – it had suffered a catastrophic fire a few weeks earlier that had left the inside of the 1955 building a soggy, smoky mess. While we were looking around outside, the engineer showed up and showed it off, promising it (and its 106.5 translator) would be back on the air before long from the undamaged tower and separate transmitter building out back, as soon as things got cleaned up and dried out.
The inside of the building itself? That might well be a total loss, especially in what we guess had been the main studio at the core, now full of charred ruins and broken glass.
At various points in its recent history, the 540 signal had been paired with WBEY (97.9) in nearby Crisfield; today, WBEY is part of a GSB Broadcasting cluster that operates from storefront studios in a little strip mall on US 13 just south of downtown Pocomoke City. There are three formats here: AAA on WCTG (96.5 West Pocomoke) and simulcast WVES (101.5 Chincoteague), country WBEY and a classic country simulcast, “WOW,” on one signal to the north (WICO-FM 101.1 Snow Hill MD) and one to the south that we’ll see in a moment.
The southern half of “CTG” is WVES (101.5 Chincoteague), and the drive to see its tower takes us eastward off 13 past the Wallops Island NASA base to the very scenic (and very remote) Chincoteague Island across Chincoteague Bay, out on the edge of the Atlantic. That’s where we find the 101.5 signal – and yes, Chincoteague is where the WCTG calls originated, too.
The WVES calls – “Voice of the Eastern Shore” – started to the south in Accomac, Virginia, on the 99.3 signal that’s now WOWZ, the southern half of “WOW.” The old “WVES 99.3” logo is still there on what’s now just the transmitter building, and as we drive away, we leave the last fringes of the sprawling market that extends up to Salisbury, Ocean City and even into Delaware.
We’re in Virginia now, and in recent years the WHRO public radio stations from Virginia’s Hampton Roads have extended their signals out to many of the rural areas that are nominally in that Norfolk/Virginia Beach market, even if it’s a very expensive toll bridge-tunnel and more than an hour of driving to get there.
In some of those outlying locations, WHRO has partnered with local schools to host its rebroadcast towers, which is why we find ourselves in the Nandua High School parking lot just off US 13 looking at the short tower with the five-bay antenna of WHRX (90.1 Nassawaddox) and the two-bay of sister station WHRF (98.3 Nassawaddox). WHRX, which carries the news feed from main station WHRV, had started as a religious station before being sold in the early 2010s; WHRF, relaying classical WHRO, was a new signal in the early 2010s here.
Along the way down 13 to the WHRO relay site, we pass the one station down this way that we’d seen before. Back in 2016, when we headed north up the peninsula from Norfolk at dusk, we thought we’d get a quick outside shot of WESR (1330) and WESR-FM (103.3) in Onley-Onancock – and ended up with a full tour inside the station thanks to morning host Kelley, who was hanging around after hours helping some friends shoot a scene for their independent movie.
We didn’t need to make an inside stop this time, but with a nice sunny day, we did finally get a better exterior view of the 1958-vintage station building and the tower out back, loaded up with a folded unipole antenna for the AM signal, a 12-bay CCA antenna for WESR-FM and (look carefully!) the newer two-bay antenna for the AM station’s translator on 105.7, which signed on just after our 2016 visit here.
What else is left between here and the long bridge-tunnel across the mouth of Chesapeake Bay? We accidentally skipped over another WHRO relay – WHRE (91.9 Eastville) is also at a school, Northampton High School, relaying the WHRV news signal from Norfolk – but we did take a little detour towards Cape Charles, near the southern tip of the peninsula, to see WROX-FM (96.1 Exmore), part of the Norfolk-based Sinclair Telemedia cluster whose studios we’d be seeing later that same day.
“96X” rimshots Norfolk from across the bay, using a 226-meter tower to try to get its class B modern rock signal into at least the northern parts of the Hampton Roads market from pretty much the nearest spot where it can fit against the big second-adjacent 95.7 signal in Norfolk itself.
Two more stations sharing a tower finish off our drive down Route 13 before heading for the bridge-tunnel. WWIP (89.1 Cheriton) is the three-bay antenna a little lower on this tower on the east side of the road, while WZLV (90.7 Cape Charles) is the four-bay above it. Both stations were started by the Delmarva Educational Association, the nonprofit arm of Salem’s Epperson family, and Delmarva still owns WWIP, but WZLV (originally WAZP) ended up in the hands of EMF more than a decade ago and now provides a surprisingly potent K-Love signal to most of the Hampton Roads market from this site across the bay.
And with that, we’re headed across the 17-mile bridge-tunnel (yes, that’s a whopping $18 toll!) from the quiet rural peninsula into the urban heart of Norfolk – which you’ll see in next week’s installment!
CALENDARS ON CLEARANCE
If you don’t have your 2023 Tower Site Calendar yet, now is the perfect time to get it. Because we have lowered the price to just $14.
The calendar has great photos of broadcast sites near and far (everywhere from Navajo Nation on the cover to Boston to Toronto to Texas, and beyond), plus a lovely “centerfold” you can keep on your wall for 2024.
It’s still shipping regularly, and you can have yours in just a couple of days!
Order your copy and you’ll see what we mean.
If you have already ordered your calendar, make sure you check out the other items in the store, too!
And don’t miss a big batch of Delmarva IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: Sinclair Telemedia, Norfolk