North East RadioWatch: March 24, 2000

WFAU Loses A Tower, WFNX Gains A State, NERW Visits California's Coast

by Scott Fybush

We've been promising a look at at our visit a few weeks ago to CALIFORNIA, and now it's time to deliver...beginning in the San Francisco market, where the trip began and ended.

It turns out we were there a few weeks too early to hear and see the biggest changes there, most of which involved the TV dial. We already knew that KNTV (Channel 11) in San Jose was dropping its ABC affiliation in 2002, and we knew that NBC had failed in its bid to buy San Francisco affiliate KRON (Channel 4), losing out to an $823 million offer from Young Broadcasting (owner of Albany's WTEN, among others).

What we didn't know yet was that NBC would join forces with KNTV, and that KNTV owner Granite Broadcasting (owner of Buffalo's WKBW and Syracuse's WTVH, to name a few) would flip the traditional affiliate/network relationship on end by agreeing to pay NBC for the affiliation beginning in 2002.

While we were out there, we learned that Fox affiliate KTVU (Channel 2) was adding its entry into the Bay Area's 6 PM news wars with a newscast set to begin next week. KTVU's 10 PM show is traditionally a market leader, and a 6 o'clock KTVU show could become a viable option amidst the confusion from the upcoming NBC moves.

On the radio side, not much had changed in the 16 months since our last visit, with the minor exception of Saul Levine's Marin County stations. On the AM side, what had been KKHI (1510 San Rafael) had mutated in adult standards, moving from 1000 watts on a single tower in the North Bay to 8000 watts daytime from a four-tower array located on the roof of a warehouse in Oakland. (Take that, Bob Bittner!)

On the FM side, the former classical KKHI-FM (100.7 San Rafael) had been sold to Salem, becoming Christian contemporary KJQI-FM, "Joy." We also heard the simulcast -- complete with indecipherably mumbled legals -- of San Jose's KSJO (92.3) on Walnut Creek's KFJO (92.1) and Alameda's KXJO (92.7 -- though it's since been sold away from the other two as part of the CCU-AFM spinoffs). Also new was KCNL (104.9 Fremont), "Channel 104.9" with eighties hits; it had been a sort-of simulcast to KUFX (98.5 San Jose) last time, after the death of the old KOME.

And just after we left, 1510 flipped again -- to automated classical as KMZT, "K-Mozart." (One more flip that was expected the week we visited, but was in fact delayed a week, was that of KNEW 910, from a simulcast of KIOI-FM to business and computer news "C|Net Radio.")

Leaving the Bay Area behind, we pointed the rental NERW-mobile (a Daewoo, as it happened) south on Highway 17 towards Monterey Bay and the sweet sounds of KPIG (107.5 Freedom), the AAA-country hybrid that's become (and rightly so) one of the top Webcasting destinations.

Finding the source of "Pure Pork" proved a bit of a challenge, but after turning around several times, we finally saw the faded pink pig hanging off the balcony of what looked like an abandoned motel behind another office building off a run-down section of Main Street in Watsonville.

The office staff had the day off for the Martin Luther King holiday, but the studio door was open and we enjoyed an awfully nice visit (and left with some nice KPIG loot, too!)

The rest of the dial in Monterey Bay was singularly unexciting: country KTOM (1380 Salinas) had ditched its FM simulcast (except for morning drive) for satellite classic country; KTXX (1460 Salinas) had returned to the air with One-on-One Sports after several dark years, but with no local IDs for several days (it was fixed when we passed through on the way back later in the week); KMBY (1540 Capitola) was dark and deleted, but its flagpole-style towers still stood off Highway 1; KRQC (92.7 Marina) had given way to a simulcast of San Jose's KSJO (92.3) as KMJO; smooth jazz KXDC (101.7 Carmel) had become rhythmic CHR as KBTU; and what had been urban as KISE (103.9 Seaside) had migrated to satellite hard rock as KTEE ("The Eagle"), and apparently switched to some form of AAA a few weeks after our visit.

On the non-comm side, the newspaper carried several stories during our stay about KAZU (90.3 Pacific Grove), which had hit financial problems as a community free-form station and was being sold to California State University at Monterey Bay (CSUMB). KAZU's troubles were a topic of discussion at KPIG as well, since many KPIGers also work or worked at KAZU; the theory at KPIG was that a successful commercial station like KPIG made it harder for a noncomm station to try to do a similar format and survive in the same market.

And on the TV dial, it was duopoly in full effect, with Ackerley running both Fox affiliate KCBA (Channel 35) and CBS outlet KION (Channel 46). NBC came from Hearst/Argyle and KSBW (Channel 8), with KNTV offering ABC service until the big flip (suspicion after that has KSBW switching to ABC). Spanish-speaking viewers had local news via Univision affiliate KSMS (Channel 67), as well as a translator of Telemundo's KSTS (Channel 48) in San Jose. PBS, WB, and UPN all came from San Francisco and San Jose on cable.

The NERW-Daewoo then pushed on to the south, passing the KRML (1410 Carmel) transmitter en route to the radio-less stretch of Highway 1 that passes the stunning scenery of Big Sur en route to San Luis Obispo. Turning off the road at Hearst Castle, we found ourselves tuned to another AAA station well known through its Webcast, KOTR (94.9 Cambria), aka "K-Otter."

Hearst Castle itself is a subject perhaps better suited to a different travelogue, but we'll offer this lone radio-related note: according to our tour guide, William Randolph Hearst's radios at the Castle were connected by phone line to New York and Los Angeles, since over-the-air reception at the remote site, at least during the day, was all but nonexistent back then.

San Luis Obispo itself is a wonderfully laid-back college town that seems to have been somewhat over-radioed in recent years. The dial sounded something like this:

San Luis Obispo is a massively clustered market; we were able to get bumper stickers for most of the market with just a handful of stops. Stratosphere Broadcasting has KSLY, KXFM, KSTT, and KQJZ, all in a little office building on Zaca Lane near the former 1340 transmitter site (which has since moved further to the south of San Luis Obispo along US 101). KZOZ, KKJG, KKAL, KIQO, and KWWV are all owned by American General Media and operate from another anonymous office building out near the airport. KVEC sits by itself in a little house a few blocks south of downtown.

The KVEC/KJDJ transmitter site is impossible to miss coming in from the north on 1; it's a single self-supporting tower high on a hill above a big concrete-block building with large "KVEC" letters. KKJL is also on a hill near 101, while KGLW's new unpainted, unlit tower sits at the end of the same street that's home to the KCBX studios.

In the same neighborhood south of downtown is the new studio complex of KSBY (Channel 6), the NBC affiliate for the multi-city TV market that includes San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara, covering some 85 miles of coastal California.

KSBY's transmitter, along with most of the SLO FMs, is on Cuesta Peak to the north of SLO; we couldn't get there from Highway 1 (and I was told later that the road access, such as it is, is from 101 North -- next time!)

(We'd note here that the market has already seen some changes since we left; KQJZ has dumped smooth jazz for active rock.)

So under a light drizzle, we headed south again, through the town of Santa Maria towards Santa Barbara. Santa Maria hears SLO radio, but it also has some of its own stations on the AM side:

We saw two of the AM sites, one on the north end of town with KUHL and KTAP, the other on the east side with KSMA and KSBQ, before pressing on towards lunch in the town of Solvang, the only place in California settled by the Danes. KSYV (96.7) is Solvang's AC station; its calls stand for "Santa Ynez Valley."

With a few hours of daylight still remaining, we steered the NERW-Daewoo down 101 into Santa Barbara. Here's what that dial sounded like:

In addition, Santa Barbara can hear much of the Los Angeles AM dial (KFI in particular), and even a few of the FMs (KLOS, KFSG, KKLA, KRTH, KBIG, KKGO) that haven't been stepped on by 80-90 encroachment.

Many of the Santa Barbara FMs are up in the hills with the KEYT (Channel 3) tower; that's also where the 990 transmitter is. The transmitters for 1290 (whose calls stand for owner Bob Newhart), 1340, and 1490 share a single flagpole-style tower just off 101 east of downtown. The 1250 site is somewhere west of town; we didn't get there.

We only saw one studio complex in Santa Barbara, that of the Clear Channel stations (KXXT, KTYD, KSBL, KIST, KTMS); other groups operating there include Cumulus (KRUZ, KMGQ, KKSB) and some stand-alones.

(Since our visit, 1340 has gone back to oldies and apparently to its heritage calls of KIST, while KIST-FM on 107.7 has just dropped oldies to go CHR as "Kiss," challenging KKSB, which also went CHR as "Kiss" a few weeks back. Confusing? You betcha!)

As for TV, Santa Barbara contributes ABC affiliate KEYT-TV (Channel 3) to the market, as well as Fox LPTV KKFX-LP (Channel 24, known on cable as "Fox 11.") KEYT's studios are in a ritzy hilltop community west of downtown with an amazing view.

Heading north again, we stopped in Santa Maria to see its TV station, KCOY (Channel 12), the CBS affiliate for the region. A note here about TV: while SLO, Santa Maria, and Santa Barbara all get the Big Four locals (as well as Univision affiliate KTAS 33), they also get a variety of Los Angeles TV stations through translators and cable. In SLO, that means KCBS (Channel 2), some programming from KABC (Channel 7), KTLA (Channel 5), KCAL (Channel 9), KCOP (Channel 13), and PBS KCET (Channel 28).

In Santa Barbara, KEYT and KCOY take care of ABC and CBS, leaving the cable to carry KNBC (Channel 4), KTLA, KCAL, and KCET.

In addition, nearby Ventura county offers KJLA (Channel 57), with business programming (that used to be seen on LA's KWHY-22) and bilingual programming at night, as well as UPN affiliate KADY (Channel 63), which runs a 10pm newscast that's simply a taped replay of KEYT's 6 pm show. Via translator, Santa Barbara also sees TBN's KTBN (Channel 40) and KCET.

Anyway, we were heading north, weren't we? This time, we used US 101, passing through San Luis Obispo towards Paso Robles and the very cute Art Deco-ish studios of KPRL (1230), a station that looks like the epitome of a late-1940s small-town station. Too bad there was no actual legal at the top of the hour...though there was over on the FM side at Spanish-language KLUN (103.1), at least.

From Paso Robles, it's a long, flat drive through the farmland, with a stop in rundown King City for KRKC AM-FM, the AM doing satellite country, the FM with satellite AC from a little building near the highway that's also home to the local cable company.

On FM, the dial begins to light up with Spanish-language FM drop-ins, including regional Mexican KLOK (99.5 Greenfield, "Radio Tricolor," whose red-white-and-green stickers were on every other pickup truck) and Z Spanish Media's KZSL (93.9 King City) and KSEA (107.9 Greenfield). Z also owns KRAY (103.5 Salinas) and KLXM (97.9 Salinas), and just bought KLUE (106.3 Soledad), which had been simulcasting San Jose's KEZR on adjacent 106.5 for no good reason that we could discern.

One more new signal caught our ears as we approached Salinas: KOQI (1200 Soquel), a longtime CP finally activated with what sounded like a stack of country CDs and a taped ID at about :12 past each hour. It's a powerful signal from the KIEZ (540) sticks southeast of Salinas, and one that's being reported up and down the coast as far north as San Francisco.

And from there, it was north to San Francisco for us, too, to catch the plane that took us home through Chicago (where we suffered through something like 12 minutes of spots on WJMK 104.3 waiting for a Dick Biondi remote from a suburban Home Depot...)

That's it for another week, but before we go: Does anyone have a copy of the February 7 Broadcasting & Cable that they're done with? It's a long story, but suffice it to say we'd like to hear from you if you do. Thanks on behalf of the NERW Attic...and we'll see you next Friday!

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