North East RadioWatch: December 11, 1998

Big Apple's Big Changes, and, We Visit The Midwest

by Scott Fybush

"Baby, if you've ever wondered"...wondered what ever became of NERW: We checked out all the air in Cincinnati (and Dayton and Fort Wayne) just after Thanksgiving, and here's some of what we saw and heard during our week away:

The drive to Fort Wayne was as uneventful as always, and the only highlight was hearing WSWR (100.1 Shelby OH) actually using its calls and city of license at the top of the hour. A dinner stop in Toledo found us tuned to 88.3, the shared-time signal of the University of Toledo (WXUT) and the Toledo schools (WXTS). Nighttime is WXUT's time, but the techno music they were playing was uninterrupted by any IDs at all.

Fort Wayne itself has become an increasingly strange market. Until now it's been untouched by any of the big national groups -- but in this case, some national programming assistance might actually help matters. The alleged CHR station, WMEE (97.3), plays a few currents -- but, so help us, we heard them segue right from Jewel into Rick Springfield, and it wasn't an isolated incident. Meanwhile, the putative modern AC station, "Star 94", (WYSR 94.1 Roanoke/WGL-FM 102.3 Auburn, although they legal as "WYSR Fort Wayne"), sounded more active and CHR-like than WMEE most of the time. The market's lone urban station, WJFX (107.9 New Haven), now goes by "107-9 Jamz" instead of "Foxy," but is still mostly satellite-delivered. There is no college radio in Fort Wayne, so several high school stations are about it in the way of diversity -- and one of them, WJHS (91.5 Columbia City), was stuck in the 70s for much of the time we listened. Religion is all over the Fort Wayne FM dial; besides locals WLAB (88.3) and WBCL (90.3), there are translators at 89.7 for WPCS from Florida and at 103.3 for WQKO Howe (a part of KAWZ's CSN Network).

There's not much to recommend the AM dial in Fort Wayne, either. WFCV (1090) was staying on the air until 7:15, which is odd, since our search of the FCC database turns up "no controlling legal authority" (with apologies to the Vice President) authorizing them to be on past sunset. Wonder if WBAL or KAAY know or care? WHWD (1380) has shifted from satellite standards to satellite sports. WGL (1250) is all satellite talk, and WLYV (1450) is more religion.

Oh yeah, that other Fort Wayne AM: WOWO (1190) seems to be back to 50kw nights for at least a little while. Its day signal is still solid for miles and miles, and was listenable as far out as Dayton and Cincinnati. New morning guy Dave Macy was entertaining, too. After dark, there's nothing WOWO offers that would be of particular interest to distant listeners these days -- a minute of local weather once an hour, no local news, satellite-delivered talk, barter spots, and that's about it.

One more note about radio in the Fort: Just after we left, Jacor plunked down almost $4 million to buy WDFM (98.1 Defiance OH), a Fort Wayne rimshotter that now runs a sleepy AC format. NERW suspects Randy is about to make a major move on the market...we can't wait to see what happens.

From Fort Wayne, your NERW editor and our Indiana Radio Watcher colleague Blaine Thompson headed down to Cincinnati, and here's what we found on the way:

We forgot to check out 104.9 in Lima, Ohio for the new WUZZ call letters, which is too bad, since we now note that the station has applied to go back to its old WAJC calls. Other than that, Lima radio seemed unchanged from our last visit last fall. Heading south, we applauded the 24/7 live, local operation at WMVR (105.5/1080) in Sidney, and listened with puzzlement to the all-Garth Brooks stunt format on WLSN (106.5 Greenville), which has since gone to a "real" country format. Nice of Garth to do the station IDs, too...

Down I-75 a bit in Piqua, WPTW (1570) had a long noon news block complete with police blotter and, yes, the death notices.

Dayton proved to be an easy market to visit -- almost all the big stations are in just three groups. Jacor dominates the market, with standards WONE (980, and WIZE 1340 Springfield), urban WBTT (94.5 Englewood), soft AC WLQT (99.9 Kettering), modern rock WXEG (103.9 Beavercreek), rocker WTOU (104.7), and hot AC WMMX (107.7) all housed in an old warehouse building in a downtown historic district. (You can see a picture at their website, Up for sale are the three Clear Channel stations in the market, WING (1410), CHR WGTZ (92.9 Eaton), and classic rock WING-FM (102.9 Springfield), which operate from the WING transmitter site south of town. And Cox owns not only the local newspaper and WHIO-TV (Channel 7), but also news-talk WHIO (1290), oldies WCLR (95.7 Piqua) and WZLR (95.3 Xenia), and country giant WHKO (99.1). WHIO(AM) has a strong local news committment and good local morning and afternoon news-talk blocks. WING has talk in the afternoon, too, but mornings were filled with a bunch of leased-time infomercials, oddly enough. WONE's morning show comes from Cincinnati sister station WSAI (1530). And WGTZ still uses that classic legal ID: "WGTZ, Eaton Dayton and Springfield ALIVE!"

Smaller commercial stations included urban daytimer WDAO (1210), gospel daytimer WGNZ (1110 Fairborn), and the urban duo of WROU (92.1 West Carrollton, with rap) and WRNB (96.9 Troy, with R&B oldies). There's religion on WFCJ (93.7 Miamisburg) and WEEC (100.7 Springfield), "Rebel" country on WPFB-FM (105.9 Middletown), and satellite standards on WPFB(AM) on 910.

On the noncomm end, that quirky AAA-loving side of us kicked in as we tuned in to WYSO (91.3 Yellow Springs) at Antioch University, a darned fine little station indeed. WDPS (89.5) is run by the Dayton Public Schools from 9:15 every morning until 4:30 every afternoon, when it yields to share-time religious operation WQRP. WQRP *used* to be on 88.1 in West Carrollton, but traded that signal to Dayton Public Radio, WDPR, last year. The Kettering schools had rock music playing on WKET (98.3), with some WKET programming also coming from Wilberforce and WCSU (88.9) later at night. The University of Dayton's student-run station, WGXM (98.1, with an on-campus 99.5 translator), was doing the most unusual programming of all -- 35 minutes of a CD skipping! Anyone home?

After finding a hotel with a good south-facing room where Cincinnati's FMs would be easy targets in the morning, we headed south towards Mecca; in this case, the WLW (700) tower just off I-75 in Mason. This must be the most amazing nighttime view in the country, with the giant illuminated "W L W" letters stretching across the broad center section of the diamond-shaped Blaw-Knox tower.

After dinner in Cincinnati, a night in Dayton, and a morning of airchecking, it was back to Mason, WLW, and a most enjoyable visit with engineering manager Paul Jellison.

What can we say about the WLW site? We've visited, by our estimate, at least 1000 transmitter sites in the last few years. There has been none finer than WLW. The Blaw-Knox stick is as impressive by day as by night, but that's just the beginning of the history that lives along Tylersville Road.

The building that's now home to the Jellison family was the original transmitter and studio of WSAI radio in the 1920s, and if you look closely above the door, the faint image of the WSAI calls can still be seen. (The building closely resembles the WTIC transmitter in Avon, Connecticut, by the way).

Next door is the WLW transmitter building. Walk in the front door and you'll see four transmitters: the original, and recently-restored, 1927 Western Electric 50kw transmitter; a unique Crosley "Cathenode" transmitter, designed for high-fidelity (but low-efficiency) operation and later converted to a more traditional design; the current Harris DX50; and the 1975-vintage Continental 317 that's now a backup.

Walled off in a back room is the true gem: the one-of-a-kind 500kw transmitter that was a joint project of GE, Westinghouse, and RCA in the 1930s. It's no longer in working condition, alas, but it's still a monumental sight at a room-filling 54 feet long and 15 feet high. It was water-cooled, and the cooling pond still sits out front.

Jim Hawkins has done a better job than I ever could at picturing this magnificent piece of history; visit his page and you'll be planning your own trip to southwest Ohio!

(Many thanks to Paul Jellison for his gracious hospitality; he spent more than an hour showing us everything from the bomb shelter downstairs to the STL equipment hiding in a lead-lined cabinet of the old 500kw monster.)

From WLW, it was off to see the rest of the market, starting in Kentucky at WLW sister station WKRC (550), with five broadly-spaced towers just off route 9. Northern Kentucky seems to be a hotbed of the "Americana" format (imagine AAA crossed with country), and WNKU (89.7 Highland Heights) was on the radio in the rental car for several hours with just that very mix of music. Also on the Kentucky side were WCVG (1320 Covington), in an inconspicuous location behind a strip mall; WSAI (1530), with four towers on the southern bluffs of the Ohio River and a funky pastel-painted transmitter building; and WTSJ (1050), whose tower literally backs up to I-71/75 as it heads for the bridge back to Ohio.

We didn't spot any radio stations doing flying-turkey promotions, thankfully, but Cincinnati offered plenty of good listening. Jacor's group now spreads across three floors of a hilltop office building, including WLW, WKRC, WSAI, rocker WEBN (102.7), classic rocker WOFX (92.5), CHR WKFS (107.1 Milford, and the "Kiss" prototype for Rochester's WYSY/WMAX-FM, it seems), and hot AC WVMX (94.1). Actually, they spread out beyond the St. Gregory Street building, since WKFS and WVMX have some facilities in Jacor's Cincinnati TV building at 1906 Highland Ave., home to WKRC-TV (Channel 12) -- and to competing CHR WKRQ (101.9), which is now owned by CBS. Must be an interesting landlord-tenant relationship, indeed...

CBS also owns oldies WGRR (103.5 Hamilton) and modern AC WYLX (97.3 Lebanon), which have studios in non-Jacor buildings.

Chancellor is the Queen City's other big radio group, led off by country WUBE-FM (105.1) and hot country WYGY (96.5 Hamilton, with transmitter atop the WLW stick!). Also in that group are two sports stations, "Bob" WBOB (1160 Florence KY) and "Bob 2" WUBE (1230). (Not to be outdone, Jacor runs sports on "Homer" WCKY 1360!). And Susquehanna runs AC WRMM (98.5) and NAC WVAE (94.9 Fairfield).

Smaller - but not neglected - are urban "Wiz" WIZF (100.9 Erlanger KY), all-jazz (!) WNOP (740 Newport KY), and R&B oldies WCIN (1480).

There's plenty to keep NERW's dial spinning on the non-comm dial in Cincinnati, too -- everything from share-time community programming on WJVS and WAIF on 88.3, to standard public radio classical fare on WGUC (90.9), to great jazz on WVXU (91.7) and its X-Star network, to pop standards on WMKV (89.3, from the Maple Knoll Village nursing home in Reading!), to a whole slew of little high-school stations including WLHS (89.9 West Chester, not that they ever ID'd) and WHSS (89.5 Hamilton, which did!). WOBO (88.7 Batavia) had more adult standards, WAKW (93.3) had religion, and despite a recent report that it's now on the air, we sure didn't hear WJYC (90.1 Delhi Hills).

A few more sites of note: Most of the Cincinnati FMs and TVs are on a series of tall towers along a ridge just north of downtown, with the most notable being the WSTR-TV (Channel 64) and WGRR tower on Winton Road, which is a pre-stressed, curvy tower with a hole in the middle, similar to the WBDC (Channel 50) tower in Washington DC. WUBE (1230) is in the city's Eden Park along the Ohio River; WCKY (1360) is in the northwest part of town; and urban WCIN (1480) seems to have given up its old site, now being bulldozed for a housing development. We couldn't find its new site, supposedly along the Ronald Reagan Cross-County Parkway near I-75, but we could hear its signal, albeit not very well.

Leaving Cincinnati, we caught religion on WCNW (1560 Fairfield) and local news at 5 on WMOH (1450 Hamilton). Our return to Fort Wayne was by way of Richmond, Indiana, where WFMG ("Hits" 101.3) was playing all of Alanis Morrissette's new album, WQLK (96.1) was all country, WKBV (1490) was doing some sort of local radio-thon, and WECI (91.5) was all over the map, like good college radio should be. Heading up US 27, we passed Union City, where WTGR (97.5) rocks on long after its sister AM WBNN (1030) was deleted, and Winchester, where WZZY (98.3) was playing AC music.

The next morning, we started the long drive home to NERW-land, stopping off to grab bumper stickers in Toledo on the way. WTOD (1560) is still a simulcast of country WKKO (99.9), and the two WTOD towers flank the studios, which are also home to WRQN (93.5 Bowling Green), which has segued from 60s oldies to 70s rock oldies. Jacor dominates this market, too, and a stop at 125 South Superior Street yielded stickers for standards/sports WCWA ("Seaway" 1230), CHR WVKS (92.5), and rock WIOT (104.7). Also in the buildings, but without sitckers, are news-talk WSPD (1370) and AC WRVF (101.5). The WCWA transmitter proved to be an undistinguished little stick next to the railroad tracks southeast of downtown, and the final stop was out in the town of Oregon, where the four towers of WLQR (1470, all-sports) surround the studio buildings of WLQR, hot AC WWWM (105.5 Sylvania), and rock WXKR (94.5 Port Clinton). From there, it was back to I-280, the Ohio Turnpike...and the long drive home.

We missed the call change in Cleveland, where Radio Disney's WMIH (1260) is now WWMK, but we did stop for dinner near Ashtabula to marvel at the live, local oldies programming on the amazingly directional (just listen to the phasing on I-90 west of the transmitter!) WFUN 970, "Fun Radio." And if WVCC (101.7 Linesville PA) had actually run a legal ID instead of dead air before the network news, we'd now have a complete set of legal IDs from that area.

And we'll close this out by returning to the region, where the NERW-mobile came to rest for a few minutes in the Buffalo area, in hopes of watching WNEQ (Channel 23) sign off at 11 PM, as they'd been doing. Alas, it was not to be -- as WNEQ slowly grinds towards its eventual sale to Sinclair, it's stopped doing its own prime-time programming. It now seems to sign on mid-afternoon, run separately from WNED-TV (Channel 17) for a few hours, then simulcast WNED prime-time and sign off sometime around midnight. We didn't stick around to wait for it.

That's it for this huge double issue. Next week, we'll return to a more manageable size, for one week, and then we'll offer our traditional two-part Year in Review issues. Look for them around December 25, 1998, and January 1, 1999.

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