Tuesday, December 8, 2009

12 Months of Radio Towers

I continue to be amazed at how boring wall calendars are. How long can someone stand to look at U.S. tourist destinations, flowers of the month, racing cars or dogs? Wouldn’t you much rather be looking at radio towers?

If radio geekdom were a society, I’d be among its royalty. My radio interest extends beyond programming to signals and transmitter sites. I had never known quite what to make of my odd hobby except to assume most people would think it was slightly unusual. In fact, my transmitter passion turned me into a devious little kid. I’d suggest to my parents taking a pleasant Sunday drive, and then guide them unsuspectingly down roads to places where I had seen towers in the past.

I had attempted to find a therapist but was unable to locate anyone specializing in Tower-Site Syndrome or Radio OCD. Nevertheless, I eventually met others with the same affliction, one of whom is Scott Fybush; more on Scott later.

My good friend Chris Murray, now a radio station owner in Macon, is interested in and very knowledgeable about FM antennas. But when Chris looks at towers, he sees dollar signs. One day about 10 years ago, Chris told me that official aviation maps identify and illustrate all significant towers. That sent me off to DeKalb Peachtree Airport in search of one of those precious maps.

As I approached the PDK entrance, I was thinking, “I hope they don’t ask why I want this.” When I requested the map, the man behind the counter asked, “Going flying today?” “Not today” was my sheepish reply. “Well, it’s a beautiful day to fly,” he added. Whew!

When I first came online in the late 90’s, I discovered a treasure trove of radio stuff. One day, I came across a site at http://www.fybush.com/ that consisted of a newsletter, Northeast Radio Watch. The next time I returned, the site had grown exponentially in sophistication and content, and now featured a “Tower Site of the Week.” That week, the tower was the one shared by WCBS-AM and WFAN-AM on High Island in New York.

As I continued to follow Tower Site of the Week, I started communicating with its creator, Scott Fybush; and thought just how cool giving Scott a radio tour of Atlanta would be. That wish has come to fruition 4 times. In fact, the towers themselves are no longer enough for Scott’s insatiable signal-radiation appetite; he now must go inside to see the equipment.

Scott took things a step further, creating the world's most unusual calendar nine years ago.  Each month offers a mesmerizing view—well at least I think so—of an interesting and scenic broadcast site.  That's 12 months of transmitter bliss plus the cover photo, for 13 views in all.

The Tower Site Calendar 2010 contains some of the most unique and famous sites, including a few of my favorites. One is the former and endangered WTBS-TV site, part of virtually every shot of the Atlanta skyline. Next is a landmark visible around the south end of Charlotte, WBT-AM, with its unusual diamond towers. Another is the 7-tower array of 690 AM at Rosarito Beach in Mexico, which pumps out 77,500 watts by day and 50,000 at night.

Some other notable scenes for 2010 include the legendary KDKA in Pittsburgh, New York’s newest AM site (for WEPN/1050) and KTAR-AM in Phoenix, whose towers straddle two sides of a shopping center.

If you are still reading at this point, you probably agree that adorning your home with the Tower Site Calendar would be a slice of radio heaven. The price is $18 including postage, payable by check to Scott Fybush; 92 Bonnie Brae Avenue; Rochester, NY 14618. You can also pay by credit card at http://www.fybush.com/.

Bouncy November PPM
When Arbitron brought its PPM technology to the Atlanta market, we thought a more stable sample would arrive with it. As discussed in a prior issue, that has not seemed to be the case.

When I reviewed the results for November 2009, I knew one of two things had most likely happened. Atlanta’s 18-34 community got religion big time, or the 18-34 PPM sample was woefully small. I suspect it’s the latter, and maybe we're not getting as many Cell-Phone-Only homes as promised.

Kevin & Taylor do a quality morning show on 104.7 The Fish. But what did they do from October to November to cause their 18-34 numbers to triple? Why have the 18-34 numbers for Praise 102.5, a station that has skewed older than most gospel FM’s, taken an Olympic jump from October to November? Conversely, why did CHR/Rhythmic 95-5 The Beat get, well, beaten by The Fish and Praise in the November PPM’s?

Arbitron of course weights the demographics in line with the market’s population. In other words, if 10% of the population was 18-34, the 18-34 results gleaned from the PPM were weighted to equal 10%. If the 18-34 sample was small but represented by a couple of religious folks who listen heavily, the sample would have been weighted up to 10% based on their listening.

Star 94, The Beat and V-103 all got skewered by the fluky 18-34 numbers. The Bull, which lost Persons 6+ share for the first time in months, actually increased in the key 25-54 demo, but saw a tremendous amount of 18-34 year olds vanish into thin air, or into Gospel or Christian Contemporary listeners.

Personally, I would not base a radio buy on the November PPM report. The next monthly will not be much better; it’s December, heavily skewed by Christmas music.

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/atlantaairwaves, and we’ll follow you back. Email your comments to roddyfreeman@bellsouth.net.

Link to Rodney Ho’s AJC Radio & TV Blog:

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