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"Tower Site Hunting from the Air"
By Frederick R. Vobbe

All pictures (c) Frederick R. Vobbe, Aug 2001

One of my hobbies is photography. In the past 5 years I have shot portrait pictures of people, products, family assets, squirrels hanging off telephone cables, birds on the feeder, and even tower workers on a 500-foot broadcast tower. However, I had never shot pictures of tower sites from an airplane flying by at 80 to 140 knots!

The camera that I chose was a Canon Rebel EOS-G with a Sigma 100-400 millimeters lens. The cameras shutters speed was set to 1500, and I used 200 ISA Fuji film.

The mission called for meeting up with DX Audio Service member Paul Smith, who was flying in from Sarasota, Florida. Paul's trip was taking him from Florida to Southeast Michigan, so we decided that we could all do some tower hunting together as he passed by.

We started on Friday evening when I met Paul at the airport. We then drove over to Ryan's Steakhouse for dinner and to discuss the grisly details of our expedition the following morning.

Paul explained some interesting things about our tower escapades. First of all, there were safety issues. We had to get permission to go into several areas. In fact, we had to blow off several sites south of Detroit due to the fact that the Detroit air traffic control would not let us in their airspace. That took away 689/690, 760, 1200, 1340, 1400, 1440, and 1500 from our list.

Another factor is that you would normally think that a bright sunshine would lend itself to better photographs. This is not the case. It is actually better to have a slightly overcast day to diffuse the direct light. I noticed that when the sun was out the towers were harder to see. The towers seemed to blend in within the landscape. On the opposite, when it was overcast the pictures were cleared and towers stood out. When you look at the pictures you see that some tower is seems to stand out better than others.

Saturday morning I met Paul at the Cracker Barrel restaurant located in Lima. Some last minute planning was done after breakfast. The plane that Paul flies, a Cessna Skylane has the wing over top the cabin and I flew in the right seat. The only thing I forget in my planning was to calculate for is the distance of lens + camera. When I would turn to shoot a picture, I would have to be careful not to drive the lens into the side window. When the lens is fully extended (400mm), it is 15.25" from the front to the back!

After adding some oil and checking the gas, we took off from Allen County Airport. The airport is located roughly 4 miles ESE of downtown Lima. It was somewhat overcast at take-off, but great flying weather by the time we started taking pictures.

WIMA-1150

Our first site was that of the four towers of the radio station at 1150 in Lima Ohio. The call sign of the station is WIMA. You will note on the second tower from the north an FM antenna system. I'm not sure if this site is still being used but it was the auxiliary site for WIMT-FM at 102.1 in Lima. Although the towers are painted with aviation orange and white, the towers now use strobe style markers. WIMA is non-directional 1,000 watts day, and directional to the north with 1,000 watts at night. BTW, they use a Broadcast Electronics solid state transmitter with a Harris MW-1A as backup.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3

WLJM-940

From the 1150 sites we slide north and picked up the 940 transmitter site. The call sign of this Lima station is WLJM. The station was originally born as WCIT, and owned by the Lima Citizen newspaper of Lima. The station has somewhat smaller towers, and one of the towers holds the antennas for WUZZ-FM 104.9. When I first came to Lima in the mid 1980s this site was kept up. Sad to say, the site has fall fallen into some disarray. The station transmits with 500 watts day, 250 PSRA, and 6 watts at night. However, sometimes it seems that the 6 watts gets out very well. :)

INFO | Pic-1 the tower with FM antennas | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4

WLIO Channel 35

We couldn't have fun with just AM radio stations, so we turned west and picked up Lima's premier television station. Our timing was a little bit off because just three weeks after these pictures were taken the tower was freshly painted. It looks a lot better than it does in these pictures. On the top of the tower you will see the antenna for Channel 35, an RCA/Dielectric TFU-30JA. WLIO uses an RCA TTU-30D transmitter. Along the side of the tower are antennas used for the medical services in Lima, amateur radio repeaters, and auxiliary broadcast systems at 450/455 and 26 mHz.

Pic-1 looking south | Pic-2 looking SE | Pic-3 looking east | Pic-4 looking north
Pic-5 looking NW | Pic-6 looking SW | Pic-7 looking SW

As we made the final turn around to the south to go towards Celina, OH, I was able to shoot this picture of my house. You can see my wife's red Buick Century, the tribander in back of the house but not the other eight antennas due to the big Maple trees.

WCSM 1350

Ok, back to AM. We flew to the southwest and picked up semi local WCSM in Celina, Ohio. WCSM operates on 1350 and has to protect several stations on this frequency, and adjacent frequencies, with their 4-tower directional array. The station also has an FM counterpart, but the transmitter is co-located with WKKI out by Wright State University. WCSM continues to be a good local presence in Celina and St. Marys.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4

WERT 1220

WERT in Van Wert, Ohio, has one tower. The tower is less than quarter wave, and the station operates with a power of 250 watts. If you look close the tower you will see several ancient FM antennas left over from the original WERT-FM at 98.9. The FM was upgraded to higher power, and moved east. It was then purchased by a company in Ft. Wayne, and was moved to the state line and holds the call sign WBYR "The Bear". WERT then purchased the station in Paulding, Ohio, (WKSD) and now has an FM on 99.7. WERT has an automated Stardust format. At night reception of WERT in Lima is compromised by 1220 in Cleveland OH.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3

WFIN 1330

WFIN in Findlay, Ohio, is the only AM station along I-75 between Lima and Bowling Green. This local station to Hancock County operates non-directional 1 kilowatt day, 500 watts PRSA, and 79 watts at night. Due to the short tower the station is not real strong in Lima. You will note some FM antennas on this tower. These are for their FM station, WKXA 100.5. The WFIN call sign has been in Findlay for years, and it's a good community station to the area.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4
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WJYM 730

WJYM began life as WWBG with an easy listening format, then WMGS with country and western, then it was finally purchased by Jimmy Swaggert and renamed WJYM with a religious format. I have not confirmed this, but I believe that the station is operated 100% out of Baton Rouge, LA, because all attempts to contact local staff have failed. When I worked at WMGS in the early 1970s, the station had a Gates BC-1T transmitter and phaser.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4

WSPD 1370

Every city has the grandfather of broadcasting. In Toledo it's WSPD. This station has three beautiful self-standing towers, and operates on 1370 with 5,000 watts day and night. WSPD was one of the first stations in Toledo to go AM stereo, and was one of the best technical facilities in town. The station was originally a member of the Storer Broadcasting chain, but is now owned by Clear Channel. In it's past it was a sister station to WSPD-FM (now WRVR) at 101.5, and WSPD-TV (now WTVG) on Channel 13.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

WLQR 1470

Here is another facility that I worked for in my younger days. This station started off as WOHO with various formats. During the hey-day of Toledo radio, this station, WTOD-1560, WTTO-1520, and to some extent WCWA-1230 battled for the top spot in Toledo radio. WLQR now has a sports format, and is 1,000 watts day and night. WLQR has some coverage problems to the west at night due to protecting WMDB in Peoria, IL.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

WDMN 1520

Yet another station I worked for is the 1520 in Toledo. WDMN started out as WTTO, WTUU, WANR, WGOR, WVOI, and finally WDMN (after a brief time of claiming the WJCM call sign). This station originally transmitted daytime with 6 towers in Bedford Twp, MI, and nighttime with 6 towers in Rossford, OH. The daytime site now houses the studios which I helped to build in 1976. The site is located just off Jackman and Smith Roads, and is actually located .5 miles north in Michigan. I recall in the late 1960s working with famed broadcast consultant Carl Smith on this array. The pictures below are the daytime site, which I understand is the only site the station uses. The station has applied for a city of license change to Rossford, OH. WDMN operates with 1,000 watts.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4

These pictures are of the old night site. Note the vines and trees growing up around the towers. I am surprised that these towers still stand as they were in rough shape when I was at the station in 1976.

Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

WLLZ 560

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

This was the last AM station I worked for before making the transition into television. WLLZ began as WMIC, then WQTE, WHND, and finally WLLZ. I worked at the station when it was "Honeyradio" or "All Oldies 560". The station has a very tight pattern to the NNW. In fact, when driving up in the morning from Toledo, it was not impossible to hear WFRB and KLVI battling it out in the null of WHND only 1/2 mile from the station! (.5 mv/m just 1 mile south of the site at one point). WLLZ operates with 500 watts daytime, and 6.5 watts PRSA. It relays a Detroit station at 103.5 and can often be heard with the ID "This is the WMUZ Word Station, WLLZ Monroe-Detroit".

After shooting these pictures we landed at Custar Airport just north of Monroe for fuel and to stretch our legs.

WWJ 950

Talk about a class station! WWJ was forced to move their old 2-tower array on Eight Mile Road in Royal Oak, MI, due to the construction of WWJ-TV's new tower. The tower went up in place of the north tower and will hold WWJ Channel 62 and their DTV station. The AM array was moved to Flat Rock, MI, just north of Monroe. The array at 950 is designed for 50,000 day and night operation. When driving south from Michigan's upper peninsula, WWJ was the first station we could hear along I-75 in Grayling, MI. Impressive coverage from this new facility. Also one of the best sounding news stations on the air in the nation, both technically and format.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

WDFN 1130

Interesting history of WDFN. It originally started in Pontiac, MI. The station was then built on the present location near Trenton, MI, and the call sign of WCAR sported several formats from ez-listening to rock. The station dropped the WCARcall sign, and went country and western under the call of WCXI. Now it's sports with WDFN. The station operates 50,000 daytime, and 10,000 night, protecting Minneapolis and New York. Interesting is the fact that both 1130 in Minneapolis and Detroit use the same slogan "the fan". When I worked in Detroit radio in the 1980s, this station had a single revolving red light on the center tower for tower lights. It's not known why this was different from the other stations in the area. Perhaps due to the old Air Force base NE of the site?

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3 | Pic-4 | Pic-5

WAAM 1600

WAAM in Ann Arbor, MI, started its life as a 3-tower array on Packard Road. The station was upgraded in power and the site was moved south of Ann Arbor on US-23. The power of the station is 5,000 day and night. WAAM uses two different patters for their transmissions. As you can see from the pictures, the site is located against US-23, which runs between Ann Arbor and Toledo. It's hard to miss this site when you're driving down US-23.

INFO | Pic-1 | Pic-2 | Pic-3

COMMENTS

This was a most enjoyable trip, both in the pictures I was able to take and Paul's fellowship along the way. My only regrets were that I should have anticipated the length of the lens and camera, which compromised some shots. Also, glare got me a few times, and I should have had either a UV filter or hood on the camera. As pointed out above, some stations we could not get. And I forgot WCWA-1230, and WTOD-1560 in Toledo. Oh well. There is a next time.

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