Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
First things first – the “Sinclair Telecable” that owns a cluster of radio stations serving Norfolk, Virginia doesn’t have anything to do with the Sinclair Broadcast Group that owns all those TV stations around the country (including MyNetwork affiliate WTVZ right down the road in Norfolk).
Bob Sinclair’s group has been around here longer – it started here in the late 1970s on the former WKLX (1350), which it rebranded as news-talk WNIS. In 1987, it sold off 1350 and bought what was then WRAP (850), moving the WNIS calls there and launching an all-news format in the market that soon upgraded to a 50,000-watt AM signal from a new site at the western edge of the metro.
On our previous visit to Norfolk in 2021, we got to see both of Sinclair’s AMs – 850, which took the heritage WTAR calls in a 1997 swap and had switched to an all-sports format, and the 790 facility, historically WTAR, that is now news-talk WNIS. But we didn’t get a chance on that visit to see the cluster’s studios, an omission that was easy to rectify with an hour or so to kill before first pitch at the Norfolk Tides, just down the block.
On the fifth floor of the office building at 999 Waterside Drive, located – just as the name says – on the banks of the Elizabeth River at the south edge of downtown Norfolk, the Sinclair Telecable studios are divided into two blocks. Turn right from the lobby and you’re on the AM side of things: there’s a newsroom looking in to the WNIS talk studio, a big rack of PPM encoders and another big rack of studio gear, and a smaller studio for WTAR’s sports talk.
What we didn’t know for sure (but, as ever, Lance had mostly figured out thanks to his RadioInsight domain sleuthing) was that this last evening of August was also the last day of sports on WTAR. The next morning, 850 and its translators on 96.5 began stunting on the way to a relaunch a week later with a variety hits format as “Lucy,” replaced earlier this year by AAA as “96.5 the Coast.”
Turn left instead from the lobby and you’ll find yourself along the row of studios for the Sinclair Telecable FMs. As we noted in last week’s installment, WROX (96.1 Cape Charles) rimshots Norfolk from across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, over at the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula.
The next station in the row, country “US 106” WUSH (106.1 Poquoson) also started out in Exmore on the peninsula before it was moved into town in two steps, first to the WNIS 790 site near Newport News and then to its current site in Portsmouth at what was the original WNIS 850 site.
And last but far from least, “Bob 93.7” is WNOB, licensed to Chesapeake, Virginia and transmitting from south of the market, just yards over the North Carolina state line near Moyock (where it started in 1973 as WMYK). The variety hits format on “Bob” these days succeeded an earlier incarnation as AAA “Coast,” WKOC, which inspired the present version of “Coast” on WTAR.
We’ve still got a few minutes before we have to head over to the ballpark, so we head up to the roof (at 26 stories, the Dominion Tower is the tallest building in the city) to take in the panoramic view – and to see a little more of Sinclair Telecable’s gear.
Before stepping out to the roof level, we see the little room that’s home to Sinclair’s STL transmitters and the auxiliary transmitter that can be used for either WUSH or WNOB (this site is a little too far away to be a WROX-FM auxiliary.)
Out on the roof, we start off by looking south across the river, where it’s easy to get a nice view of two nearby FM towers. On the left, that’s Audacy’s WWDE (101.3) and Bible Broadcasting’s WYFI (99.7); on the right, it’s the newly rebuilt tower of Saga’s WNOR (98.7).
There’s a lot of STL action happening on the roof next to that two-bay FM aux antenna: there’s line of sight from here all the way across the Chesapeake to WROX-FM from a big dish on the side of the penthouse, as well as to the AM sites and WUSH to the west and WNOB off to the south in North Carolina.
And there’s a fantastic view, of course, across I-264 to Harbor Park, where we headed next for a most enjoyable evening of Norfolk Tides baseball on the shore of the river.
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 where IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: WHRO Public Radio and TV, Norfolk