November 4, 2005

A Morning's Drive Around Sacramento


By population, Sacramento is not an enormous market - radio market #27, TV market #19 (thanks to the addition of Stockton and Modesto to the TV market). But try to drive around during a few free hours to take in a bunch of the city's AM sites, as your editor did one steamy morning in July, and you'll burn a lot of ($3/gallon) gas.

Our trip actually began the day before, at the KFBK site we showed you last week, some 20 miles north of the state capitol. While that's the most distant AM site from downtown, it's still quite a haul to some other sites. For instance, take the first site we saw on this particular morning: KLIB (1110 Roseville) and KHWD (93.7 Roseville), tucked in off Eureka Road in the fast-growing suburb of Roseville, 15 miles or so northeast of downtown Sacramento. From these three towers, Multicultural Broadcasting's KLIB sends 5000 watts by day and 500 watts by night back down I-80 towards Sacramento - and from the center tower, Infinity's "Howard 93.7" was cranking out modern rock and Howard Stern. (It just flipped to "Jack" as KQJK last week.)

Heading back towards Sacramento on I-80, we next encounter Citrus Heights, an even faster-growing suburb. Just west of 80, Antelope Road crosses what I think is the Union Pacific main line, and right alongside the railroad tracks is the first of several split sites that we'll encounter on our Sacramento tour.

KCTC (1320) is the former KCRA, which was once owned in tandem with Sacramento's channel 3 (which still bears the KCRA-TV calls), and it uses these four towers to send its 5,000 watt night signal southwest into Sacramento, with just enough of a back lobe and side lobes to still cover most of the northwest suburbs.

At the time of our July visit, KCTC was doing standards, but it's just recently switched to progressive talk.

(Had we poked around a bit more near KCTC, we'd have found another split-site operation: Family Radio's KEBR 1210 Rocklin apparently has a single tower just north of here for its 500-watt night operation; KEBR has a pending application to change city of license to "Arden-Arcade" and to go to 1500 watts from a four-tower directional array at night.)

KCTC's day signal - also 5,000 watts - comes from another corner of the market, down a dirt road in a surprisingly rural floodplain along the Sacramento River just a couple of miles northwest of downtown.

This site is also home to KCTC's sister FM station. The old KCRA-FM 96.1, later KCTC (the AM was KGNR at the time, and the pair of stations was owned by Tribune, which liked to echo the calls of flagship WGN at its other stations), is now KYMX, "Mix 96," and it transmits from the 415-footer that's the tallest tower at this site.

Just as the AMs in Sacramento are spread out, so are the FMs: there's no master FM site in the market, and there are no commercial FMs at all down at the big TV antenna farm south of the city (we'll see that next week). The closest thing to a tower farm is a trio of FMs in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas east of town along US 50.

We saw those (KRXQ 98.5, KZZO 100.5 and KWOD 106.5) during a Sacramento visit in 1995, and we didn't get a chance to go back this time. KFBK's sister station, KGBY (92.5), has a tower site in Elverta, north of town, that's about halfway up to the KFBK site itself and also serves as a microwave relay point between the KFBK studios and transmitter. There are several rimshot As and B1s northeast and northwest of the city as well - and not far from KGBY (and two noncommercial FMs - KQEI 89.3 and KXPR 90.9) sits Roseville-licensed X-bander KFSG (1690).

(We saw all of those from the highway, but didn't have a chance to stop and photograph them.)

But perhaps the most prominent FM close to the city is KSEG (96.9), whose 547-foot self-supporter towers over Northgate Boulevard just north of I-80, a couple of miles north of downtown and east of I-5.

KSEG used to be KROY (and KROI before that), and it was once the FM partner of erstwhile AM giant KROY (1240). 1240 is now KSAC, and its tower - now shared with X-band newcomer KSMH (1620 West Sacramento) sits in the Sacramento River floodplain just a few blocks north of downtown, easily visible from the Capital City Freeway where it crosses the river.

Right across the river, also in the floodplain, sits the three-tower array of the station that was once KROY's big competitor, KNDE (1470). Later KXOA, it's now Radio Disney KIID. We saw both it and KSAC/KMIH from the freeway this time, but didn't snap any pictures. (Next visit!)

From here, we're off to another very rural area that nevertheless sits almost within sight of downtown Sacramento. Head west from downtown to the gritty neighborhoods of West Sacramento, then go south on Jefferson Boulevard, and you're quickly out in the middle of nowhere. Keep going for a few miles and you'll find the three-tower day site of Salem's KTKZ (1380), the old KGMS, now doing conservative talk. From here, the station sends 5,000 watts northwest into Sacramento and out over most of the growing suburbs. (There's some suburban growth around here, too, actually; Jefferson was under some pretty heavy construction as we drove out here.)

Just a quarter-mile or so to the east - and all but camouflaged by some more construction - is the four-tower array of KJAY (1430), the 500-watt multilingual daytimer that's served Sacramento's ethnic communities for years.

That's it for the AMs we saw on this trip - our time was limited, and we had a lunchtime SBE meeting and more tours to follow.

But we need to get back to Sacramento at some point to head out to the open country southeast of the city.

It's out there that we'd find the other halves of two of the split-site operations shown here: a four tower in-line array that sends the KTKZ (1380) 5,000-watt night signal northwest into town; and south of that, the six tower in-line day site that sends the KEBR (1210) signal north towards its city of license, Rocklin.

It's also out here that we'd find two more AMs that we still haven't seen. KSTE (650 Rancho Cordova) was a latecomer to the dial, but it puts out a potent signal: 21.4 kW days, into two towers, and 920 watts night, into three towers. And at the southeasternmost corner of the market, way out in Wilton, there's the five-tower array of the market's other 50 kW voice, Infinity's sports talker KHTK (1140).

So we need to come back to Sacramento eventually - but in the meantime, we've got something more to show you from the market. Join us again next week to see some of the tallest TV towers in the west, won't you?

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