Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
A few months ago, we showed you some pictures of Jacksonville, Florida’s oldest radio station, now known as WFXJ (930). Those pictures were tied into the brand-new Tower Site Calendar 2013, and now that it is 2013 and we’re done previewing everything that’s now on your wall (right?), it’s time to break out more of those sunny, warm Florida pictures from February 2011 to counter the chill of Rochester in January. In last week’s installment, we started our tour of Jacksonville with a drive down Hogan Road, home to most of the market’s TV and FM. In this installment, we take you on a whirlwind journey through many of the city’s smaller AM facilities, most of which we saw in just one busy afternoon.
Let’s start on the southwest side of town, just a couple of miles from downtown Jacksonville, where we find “Radio Lane” and the two-tower array of what’s now religious station WJNJ (1320). This frequency (and this site) dates back to 1940, when John H. Perry put WJHP on the air, very briefly on 1290 and then on 1320. Perry followed up with WJHP-TV (Channel 36) from this site in the early 1950s, and after the TV failed in 1957, he sold the AM station the following year. 1320 became WZOK, ending up under common ownership with 96.9 FM (which had started in the late 1940s as WPDQ-FM and would once again become WPDQ-FM after being sold off in the late 1960s.) The AM station went independent again as WVOJ, but not for long; by the mid-1970s, it had been purchased by a crosstown competitor, WQIK/WQIK-FM. WQIK had started out on 1280, then moved to 1090, then to 1050, always as a daytimer until buying 1320 and moving there.
Through the 1980s and into the 1990s, WQIK on 1320 and WQIK-FM on 99.1 shared studios here, and WQIK-FM remained here for a while even after 1320 began flipping again – to sports in 1994 (WJGR, “the Jaguar,” named for the city’s NFL expansion team), to Salem’s talk format as WBOB in 2007 and then to its present gospel format as WJNJ in 2010. By then, the studios had all moved out, leaving behind a mostly-empty building with just a big active transmitter room in back, complete with the Harris 3DX50 transmitter that went in during a daytime power upgrade a few years back.
Our next stop is a little closer to downtown, just off King Street on the west side of town. That’s where we find the transmitter of WZAZ (1400), which is also doing gospel these days. WZAZ traces its history back to 1950, when it signed on as WRHC from a site just east of here on Margaret Street. Later known as WERD, 1400 eventually became part of a big Jacksonville radio cluster assembled by Lowell Paxson of Home Shopping Network fame.
There were studios here at this little brick building back in 1400’s heyday, and we poke around the remnants of them while getting a peek at the current transmitters in back. There’s more at this site, too: the FM bays up on the tower are still a licensed aux for WQIK-FM (99.1) and the main site for Family Stations’ WJFR (88.7) – and there’s also a 107.7 translator here for WJNJ (1320).
Also over on this side of town is the current incarnation of a venerable Jacksonville signal.
WMBR signed on way back in 1933, eventually landing post-NARBA on 1400. It upgraded in the mid-1940s to 1460, freeing up 1400 for the eventual use of WRHC and building a new directional plant on Lane Avenue not far from the present interchange with I-10 west of downtown.
By the time WMBR ended up in the hands of the Washington Post, it had become the market’s first TV operator (WMBR-TV channel 4, which signed on in 1949) and an early FM operator (WMBR-FM 96.1, which the Post donated to Jones College to become WKTZ.)
That Lane Avenue site eventually succumbed to development, and 1460 moved just a short distance northeast to its current three-tower facility on Warmsley Road. After a few years as WFYV(AM), paired with WFYV-FM 104.5, 1460 also ended up as part of the Paxson cluster, taking new calls WZNZ. Today it’s WQOP, programming Catholic radio for Jacksonville.
About a mile and a half to the north, Rio Grande Avenue dead-ends into a driveway that leads to the two-tower array of WROS (1050), the current incarnation of the frequency that started out in 1948 as WIVY, operating from a tower site a little east of here at the north end of Spring Grove Avenue. As we’d noted above, the 1050 frequency eventually became one stop for WQIK on its route from 1280 to 1090 to 1050 to 1320, and after WQIK had moved on, 1050 became one of the city’s first religious outlets as “The Rose of Jacksonville.”
(This was a complicated sequence of call and frequency moves: the WIVY calls moved from 1050 to 1280 around the time WQIK moved from 1280 to 1090, and 1090 operated from here on Rio Grande before WQIK moved back to 1050. The 1280 facility was relicensed, too, and it survived well into the 1990s, eventually becoming WEXI before going dark.)
A late addition to the Jacksonville AM dial is nearby at 5900 Picketville Road, less than a mile north of WROS on the northwest side of town. It’s on AM 1530, where a 50,000-watt daytimer debuted in 1976 as WCRG. Later known as WJGR, WJGC, WCRJ and WOBS, it’s now known as WYMM.
When we visited in 2011, its former Christian format had just shifted down the dial (and down the road to the south) to 1320, leaving 1530 simulcasting a Christian station from Norfolk, Virginia (WYRM 1110); it has since flipped to a Spanish religious format.
(There are two short towers here, but it was impossible to get a clear shot of them through the trees.)
The WOBS calls, in turn, also came from elsewhere in the market. Those calls lived for a long time on the station on 1360 – and unlike all these other AMs transmitting from locations west of downtown Jacksonville, 1360 emanates from a site east of the St. John’s River and south of downtown.
For many years, WOBS was the market’s black-oriented station; these days, it’s religious, too, and it’s used the WCGL calls for many years now from this same site at Jernigan and Linder Streets, off St. Augustine Road. (This was almost a TV station once, too: there was a construction permit for WOBS-TV 30 in the mid-1950s that was never built.)
And that brings us back around to our very last stop on our first day in Jacksonville. We’re back out on the west side of town, at 6869 Lenox Avenue, and near the bottom of the Jacksonville dial, at a station that’s been tied in with almost every other signal we’ve shown you here this week.
AM 600 came on the air in 1942 as WPDQ, one of only a handful of new AMs to sign on during World War II. With 5000 watts day and night and a five-tower array to create a tight lobe eastward over downtown Jacksonville, WPDQ spawned an FM signal (WPDQ-FM 96.9). As we noted above, a series of sales turned the FM into a sister to 1320 in the early 1960s, only to return it to common ownership with WPDQ in 1969.
In 1975s, a call and ownership swap moved the WPDQ calls to 1460 (under the same ownership that had been running WOBS 1360) and installed the even older WMBR calls on 600. They didn’t last long at that address, with 600 becoming WSNY (“Sunny 60”) in 1978 and WAIV in 1980, parallel to top-40 sister station WAIV-FM on 96.9. 1981 brought another new set of calls, WOKV, and eventually a news-talk format. In 1996, Cox acquired the market’s old top-40 giant, the former WAPE (690), which had by then itself become WPDQ, and it swapped formats to send WOKV’s news-talk to 690’s 50,000-watt signal and WPDQ’s standards back to 600. That didn’t last long: 600 then became sports (“The Ball,” WBWL) and then Radio Disney. Finally, in October 2010, Disney sold WBWL to Salem – and the WBOB calls and conservative talk that had been on 1320 migrated down the dial here to 600.
There were some technical changes going on when we visited: after many years with five-tower operation at night, 600 had recently dropped two of the towers and loosened its pattern a bit, reducing night power from 5000 to 1800 watts. Under Salem, WBOB has been powering back up: it’s rebuilding the other two towers, with a CP for 20,000 watts by day and 9700 watts at night and a pending application to go all the way to 50,000 watts by day. That means some new transmitters here, too, replacing that old RCA and newer Nautels.
(And what about 690? We’ll see it – and some downtown TV studios and FM sites – in our final Jacksonville installment!)
Thanks to Ron Gitschier, Clear Channel’s Ron Clemons and Salem’s Jerry Smith for the tours!
It’s 2013! Do you have your Tower Site Calendar 2013 yet? We’ve still got some left, and they’re shipping right away from the all new Fybush.com store! Order now and your wall can be festooned with Jacksonville and much more all through 2013. (We’ve also got the very last FM Atlas copies available for sale, and the new edition of the National Radio Club’s AM Log.)
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And don’t miss a batch of Jacksonville-market IDs next Wednesday, over at our sister site, TopHour.com!
Next week: St. Augustine and Flagler County, Florida