Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
We’ve spent a fair amount of time checking out the radio scene in Richmond, Virginia during several visits over the last few years – but as with any market, there’s always something new to see every time, and so it was when RadioInsight’s Lance Venta and I made a brief stop there (mostly to see the Richmond Flying Squirrels play baseball!) on the way home from our little trip down the eastern seaboard in September 2022.
We’d been inside the Virginia Public Media studios on “Sesame Street” on Richmond’s west side several times, but there was a reason to make another visit the morning after the ballgame: after buying several former Alpha Media stations to split its radio programming into two separate services, VPM moved its newsroom and the studios of its VPM News service (WCVE 88.9) into the former Alpha studios until the lease ran out there.
After that, though, WCVE moved its news operation back to its main building here on Sesame Street, and that required a new studio. While the VPM Classical service (on Alpha’s former WBBT 107.3 and WWLB 93.1) took over the original WCVE-FM studios at Sesame Street, the new VPM News studio is a small former production studio just down the hall, adjoining a small but functional newsroom.
Out back, we grab another quick shot of the two big towers out back, including the TV master tower that carries not only VPM’s TV services but also most of the Richmond commercial stations – and then we move on down Midlothian Turnpike for a quick view (literally out of our hotel window!) at the tower of Audacy’s WURV (103.7), which is also home to auxes for the rest of Audacy’s Richmond FMs – WRVQ 94.5, WTVR 98.1, WRXL 102.1 and WBTJ (106.5).
While we’d seen a few of the bigger AMs in Richmond, we used our last couple of hours in town to go see a few more we’d never visited.
Off German School Road, just southwest of downtown across the James River, there’s a site with a long history. WXGI, founded by, yes, ex-GIs from World War II, hit the air in 1948 from this location as a 1000-watt daytimer on 740, moving to 950 two years later to open up 740 for a new station down the road in Williamsburg.
These days, WXGI is still at this site, now owned by Urban One and serving as the nominal primary for “The Box,” a classic hip-hop format that’s heard by most listeners on a translator at 99.5. But there’s a lot more going on here now, too: this tower also holds a second diplexed station, Truth Broadcasting’s WLES (590 Bon Air). WLES has moved around a lot: it started out in the 1950s in Lawrenceville, an hour south of Richmond near the North Carolina border, where it was a daytimer on 580. The major change window of 2004 allowed WLES to move into the Richmond market, initially on 580 from a tower a few miles to the south of here, and then on 590 from the WXGI site after Truth swapped frequencies with its WLVA (formerly 590) over in Lynchburg to the west.
Urban One’s “Kiss” (WKJS 105.7) has its antenna on the top of the current tower here, and there are three antennas below that serving four translators. WLES’ translator on 97.7 shares an antenna with another conservative talk station, the 107.7 translator for WJFN (820 Chester); below that, there’s the 101.3 translator for black gospel “Rejoice” WREJ (990) and a 91.7 translator for CSN’s KAWZ from Idaho.
And we finished off our Richmond visit with an unexpected inside tour of a venerable AM station. What’s now WBTK (1380) is the current incarnation of one of the oldest stations in town, the former WMBG that later became WTVR, part of an AM-FM-TV combo that still lives on with WTVR-TV (Channel 6) and WTVR-FM (98.1) under separate owners.
The current 1380 site, a three-tower array tucked in a valley behind a residential cul-de-sac alongside I-95 in Lakeside, north of Richmond, has been in place since 1980, when WTVR abandoned the AM site it had used since 1937. That site had been closer to the city, on Staples Mills Road at Broad Street a few miles northwest of the WTVR studio, and for a few years in the 1940s and early 1950s it was also home to the WTVR-TV and WTVR-FM transmitters (WTVR, you’ll recall, was the first TV station in the South) before those were moved to the big self-supporting tower behind WTVR’s Broad Street studios.
The current 1380 site, which is accessed down a dirt road behind one of the houses nearby, is utilitarian but functional, and designed with the expectation that there will be flooding. The transmitter building is elevated on piers, as are the tower bases and ATUs out back, connected by a catwalk that rises high above the swampy land (though it’s quite dry on this September afternoon).
Inside the building, a phasor sits across from a pair of transmitters, a Nautel and a Harris. These days, WBTK broadcasts in Spanish as “Radio Poder,” owned by New Jersey-based Mount Rich Media, which also operates TV and FM stations at the edges of the New York City market.
WE’VE LOWERED THE PRICE!
It’s officially summer. Have you still not ordered your Tower Site Calendar?
Good news! You can now purchase it for just $8. You also still have the option of getting it signed for $13, or buying a storage bag for $1.
And don’t miss a big batch of Richmond IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Thanks to VPM’s Joe Fleming and WBTK’s Glen Motto for the tours!
Next week: St. Catharines, Ontario