As you can see from these pictures, the sun was just about down by the time we took these pictures, and it wasn't much later that we heard WOSU's 820 signal switch sites and drop to night power. A Steak & Shake dinner and a night's sleep later, we were back on the road, finishing up our look around Columbus on a rather cloudier day.
Our first stop was northwest of town, about three miles outside the I-270 loop on Ohio 3, on the northern outskirts of Westerville. This 1125-foot tower, shown at left above, is the tallest stick in the area, built in 1973 for WOSU-TV 34, the public broadcaster that's based at Ohio State University. When we visited, it was home to two other signals as well: Sinclair's Fox affiliate, WTTE (Channel 28), since relocated to the channel 6 site south of downtown after considering building a much taller tower north of here, and WEGE (103.9 Westerville), North American Broadcasting's classic hits "Eagle". (The current incarnation of 103.9 is actually a fairly recent license; 103.9 in Westerville used to be jazz station WBBY, which lost its license in the early nineties.)
You can't tell it from the picture, but the channel 34 tower is surrounded by residential development almost to its guy-wire anchors.
Heading back into downtown, it's hard to miss One Nationwide Plaza and the guyed tower on its roof. That's Ohio's most powerful FM station there - the grandfathered 175,000-watt ERP signal of WNCI (97.9) that still blankets most of central Ohio from here. WNCI's studios used to be in this building as well, but when it and the rest of Nationwide Communications was sold to Jacor in 1998, a big shuffle of studios and owners ensued. The Justice Department wouldn't let Jacor hang on to the huge amount of market share it would have had as a result - so while Jacor kept WNCI, it spun off several other stations. WLVQ and rimshotters WHOK (95.5 Lancaster) and WAZU (107.1 Circleville) went to Infinity (in exchange for six Infinity stations in Baltimore, San Jose and Minneapolis), while modern rock WZAZ (98.9 Upper Arlington) went to Radio One and became rhythmic oldies WXMG.
Overnight - literally - half the stations in town had to trade studios. Here's how contributor Kit Sage recalls it: "WCOL AM-FM moved from 2 Nationwide Plaza to the WLVQ facility (in the WTVN building) on Dublin Rd. WLVQ moved from Dublin Rd. to the WCOL studios in 2 Nationwide. WNCI moved from 1 Nationwide Plaza to The Continent, but I don't know which actual studio they occupied. WHOK moved from The Continent to 1 Nationwide Plaza in the former WNCI studio. WZAZ (WXMG) moved from The Continent to the Radio One studios on Third Ave. I don't remember if WAZU 107.1 was located at The Continent or on Dublin Rd. prior to the big change, but they ended up in 2 Nationwide Plaza with WLVQ, using the former control room of WCOL (AM) from what I was told."
There's another FM signal on the roof now, too; Clear Channel's WFJX (105.7 Marysville) had just flipped to classic rock "Fox" when we drove through in 2000, and it was still running from the tower shown at left, 10 miles northwest of the I-270 loop off the side of US 33 near US 42. (This was actually the second site for 105.7; it started out from a tower north of Marysville that's now home to WJZK 104.3 Richwood, half of a smooth jazz simulcast with WJZA 103.5 Lancaster.)
WFJX later changed city of license to Hilliard and relocated its antenna to the roof of One Nationwide Plaza, becoming a full-city signal.
One more neat rooftop site bears mention downtown (in addition to the WCKX 107.5 antenna atop the Borden Building at Fourth and Broad): at the corner of Marconi and Gay sits the LeVeque Tower, a Columbus landmark - and up atop its spire sits the three-bay antenna of WCBE (90.5), the Columbus Board of Education's noncommercial FM that does a mix of NPR news, AAA and world music. There's been a tremendous amount of intrigue surrounding this signal; it's no secret that WOSU would like to add it to its existing station group - or that standalone modern rocker WWCD (101.1 Grove City) covets its downtown transmitter location. Because of the 10.6 MHz (IF) frequency difference between 90.5 and 101.1, WWCD's transmitter has to be at least 15 kilometers from WCBE's, which puts it south of I-270 and makes the 101.1 signal hard to hear in parts of downtown. Despite several proposals to swap towers with WCBE, nothing has developed yet.
Another station whose signal has figured in swap rumors lately is the only AM on Columbus' east side. WBNS (1460) is the proud owner of one of the handful of Blaw-Knox diamond towers still standing, and its lovely transmitter site on Barnett Road, just south of East Main Street, is brimming with history. At 380 feet, the WBNS Blaw-Knox is the second shortest diamond tower in the country (WFEA 1370 in Manchester, New Hampshire has one slightly shorter - and we'll leave WVWA in Pound Ridge for our April 1 edition!), but what it lacks in height it makes up in beauty. The WBNS call letters down the north side of the tower are clearly visible to traffic on Main Street, which is also US 40 - once the main east-west highway into downtown - and the building at its base is from the "they don't build 'em like that anymore" school of transmitter building design.
WBNS uses only this tower only for its 5 kW day signal; at night adds one of the two conventional self-supporting towers for its 1 kW directional signal, which has long been outgrown by Columbus' suburban sprawl. I'm told there's an old Collins tube transmitter in the building for aux use and a Harris DX10, throttled back to 5 kW, for primary use.
(The other tower, which isn't part of the AM array, still has auxiliary bays for WBNS-FM 97.1; early FM operation WELD-FM was here once, too, providing radio fax service for the Dispatch.)
The signal deficiencies of 1460 mean that the prestigious Ohio State sports package that's a cornerstone of WBNS' sports format has to be simulcast on WBNS-FM to reach much of the market, and there's been some talk of trading 1460 for WOSU's somewhat better 820 signal (and somehow ending up with WCBE going to the WOSU group as well.) Time will tell, we suppose - and in the meantime, that's one heck of an impressive tower, isn't it?)
Two more sites on the outskirts of the market will wrap up our visit to Columbus. North of town in Delaware, WDLR (1550) runs 500 watts by day, 29 watts at night from the two short towers out there behind the studio building at the intersection of US 36 and Ohio 37 on the east side of town. (Look carefully to the right of the tower just behind the building!) WDLR was programming religion on this 2000 visit; it's since switched to Spanish and has a pending application to move south to Westerville to better serve Columbus. (Delaware is also the city of license of oldies WODB 107.9, whose tower is something of a landmark on I-71 north of 270, and of beautiful music LPFM WINF-LP 101.9, operating from the WDLR site, which was also the original 107.9 site!)
And over in Union County, northeast of Columbus, US 36 is also where we find the seven towers of WUCO (1270 Marysville). This 500-watt signal was wedged in barely twenty years ago and has to protect co-channel stations in Cambridge, Ohio (75 miles east of Columbus) and in Detroit, among others, and the result is a signal so directional that we were almost within sight of the towers before we could hear the station clearly.
That wraps it up for Columbus - but come back next week as we mark the 40th anniversary of an AM station that's already defunct, and see the rest of the interesting sites of New Brunswick's provincial capital!
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