North East RadioWatch: November 14, 1999

Back from Seattle, and Drying Out!

by Scott Fybush

While your editors were chasing rainbows on Vashon Island, Washington (really -- just keep reading!), the radio dial back home obligingly quieted to a dull roar. Here's what happened while we were getting rained on:

The trip began in Seattle, where radio consolidation has taken some strange turns. There are five big owners (plus Salem) in the market, but no sign so far of some of the usual suspects, including the mammoth Clear Channel group. Instead, it's Entercom, CBS, the local Fisher group, Sandusky, and Ackerley, stacking up like this:

The rest of the dial: religion on KCIS (630) and KCMS (105.3) from nearby Edmonds; religion on KBLE (1050); talk for Tacoma on KLAY (1180 Lakewood); Korean-language fare on Jean Suh's KWYZ (1230 Everett) up north and KSUH (1450 Puyallup) down south; Radio Disney on erstwhile Kidstar flagship KKDZ (1250); satellite talk on KRKO (1380 Everett); more talk from across Puget Sound on KITZ (1400 Silverton); urban AC with a weak signal on simulcast KRIZ (1420) and KYIZ (1620) in Renton ("The Z Twins"); Family Radio religion on KARR (1460 Kirkland); gay talk radio (really!) on KNTB (1480 Lakewood) and KARO (1490 Bremerton); Spanish on KXPA (1540 Bellevue); and gospel for the Tacoma area on daytimer KZIZ (1560 Sumner).

On the FM side, jazz and NPR are heard from Tacoma's Pacific Lutheran University and KPLU (88.5); there's a KAWZ translator on 88.9 that carries from Tacoma north past Everett; Bellevue High School's KASB is on 89.3; Seattle's Nathan Hale High School does a very professional, 30-kilowatt CHR job as "C-89" via KNHC (89.5); the high school in Gig Harbor (across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge) operates KGHP on 89.9 (with a translator on 104.5 that actually serves downtown Gig Harbor better than the primary!); Tacoma's University of the Puget Sound cranks out rap on KUPS (90.1); the University of Washington runs student station KCMU (90.3) and NPR outlet KUOW (94.9); KSER (90.7 Everett) is the last outpost of the freeform radio that started at the old KRAB 107.7 before that station was sold years ago; KVTI (90.9 Tacoma) does CHR as "I-91" from Clover Park Technical College; KBCS (91.3 Bellevue) is a very nice-sounding college station; and KBTC (91.7 Tacoma) offers "classical rock" from Bates Technical College (which also runs secondary PBS outlet KBTC-TV on channel 28.) Last but hardly least is Mercer Island High School's KMIH on 104.5, which was doing taped replays of weekday shows and legalling on the half-hour when we caught them as we drove across the island on I-90 Sunday night.

On the TV dial, there's KOMO (4) with ABC; A.H. Belo's KING-TV (5) with NBC; Cox's KIRO-TV (7) with CBS (again, after mid-90s affiliation swaps to UPN and then back); PBS outlet KCTS (9, with relay KYVE in Yakima); Paramount's UPN outlet KSTW (11, briefly CBS a few years ago); and Hearst's Fox station, KCPQ (13, aka "Q13"). UHF starts with KING's sister station, indie KONG (16 Everett, with KING5 newscasts at 7 and 10PM weeknights); followed by TBN's religious KTBW (20 Tacoma); WB outlet KTWB (22); aforementioned PBS'er KBTC (28 Tacoma); Pax TV's KWPX (33 Bellevue); and home-shopper KHCV (45, oddly unmentioned just about everywhere but the FCC database and the cable system in Bellingham...). Still unbuilt is KWDK (56 Tacoma), while Bellevue's KBEH (51) is supposedly testing, but not seen by us.

Of course, we had to see all this with our own eyes, so off we set in the rented NERW-mobile, once we figured out that the reason the radio was so bad was that the antenna wasn't up!

First stops were the two big TV/FM sites in Seattle itself, starting with the Capitol Hill site that was apparently once the studio of KCTS. Today, it has three towers: one for KCTS, KCTS-DT (41), KUOW and KCMU; one for KSTW; and one for KTWB. The faded "KCTS" letters can still be seen on the corner of the building.

North of downtown, Queen Anne Hill is crowned by three prominent TV towers, one for KING-TV, KONG, and KING-DT (48); one down the street for KOMO-TV and KOMO-DT (38) -- complete with a big "KOMO TV" sign over the front door; and one right on a commercial stretch of Queen Anne Avenue for KIRO-TV, KQBZ, and KIRO-DT (39). These towers are so prominent that they're mentioned in the "things to see" panels atop the Space Needle!

Down the hill, we encountered the Queen Anne Ave. Ackerley facility (an anonymous office building), the KCTS palace of a studio building on the site of the 1962 World's Fair, and KOMO on the other side of the Space Needle.

More driving the next day took us to the swamp in Bellevue near the I-90/I-405 interchange that's home to three AM arrays, each with three towers: KXPA, KIXI, and KSRB, then across the I-90 floating bridge and past more Seattle studios: the Eastlake Avenue Entercom facility; KING-TV and KONG on Dexter Avenue, down the street from KTWB and just up the street from the now-vacant KMPS/KZOK complex (we realized later that they've moved, with the rest of CBS Seattle, to a new office building across Dexter from KTWB!); KIRO-TV downtown; KSTW in an office tower a few blocks away; and the anonymous silvery tower that's home to Entercom's KISW, KMTT, and KNDD. Urban KRIZ/KYIZ live in an unsigned building south of downtown that's also home to the city's black newspaper.

Sunday night ended in Kirkland, at the unpainted and unlit six towers shared by KARR and the night half of KKDZ.

A rainy Monday found your editors pointing the NERW-mobile towards the ferry docks in West Seattle, with attempted stops at KKOL and KJR (easily seen from across the water in downtown Seattle, but hard to get to amidst the dock gates of West Seattle), a successful visit to the hilltop tower that's home to KBLE and the daytime half of KKDZ, and then on to the ferry to Vashon Island.

Vashon, west of Seattle and Tacoma in Puget Sound, is home to all the biggest Seattle AM signals, starting with KOMO (1000), which occupies a monumental building larger than most studios! Down the road, we saw the towers of KGNW (820 Burien), then "KVI Beach," the Fisher Broadcasting-owned private beach that's crowned by the KVI (570) tower.

Moving south, we saw the Art Deco building and two towers of KIRO (710), then brought the car to a crashing halt as the sun emerged, bringing with it a double rainbow -- and at its end, no pot of gold, but the three sticks shared by KRPM (1090) and KNWX (770). It was quite a sight, especially since it would be the last time we'd see the sun for the rest of the trip!

Monday night found us dining with Phil Bytheway of DecalcoMania and IRCA fame, enjoying radio chat and seafood before heading north towards Bellingham and the Canadian border -- but that's a travelogue for next week's NERW, isn't it?

We'll see you Friday with the week's radio news, plus our exciting, rain-drenched finale in Bellingham, Vancouver, Victoria, and the Olympic Peninsula. Join us then, won't you?

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