AM Technical Profile: WAPI

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Talk, News
Transmitter Location:
[map] [bird's eye] [google aerial] [street view] On the aptly-named Tower Rd. in Forestdale. Towers are approx. 1 mile west of US 78.
Power (ERP):
50,000 watts day / 5,000 watts night
Day: 1 tower omnidirectional
Night: 2 towers: Directional towards Birmingham. [pattern - PDF]
Other Information:
0.5 mV/m Daytime Groundwave Service Contour from the FCC's Public Files
[Bhamwiki] Information on this station from the WSY era in Birmingham
[Bhamwiki] Information on this station from the WMAV era in Auburn
[Bhamwiki] Information on this station as WAPI
[AHRS] Information on this station from the WSY era in Birmingham, from the Alabama Historical Radio Society website
[AHRS] “The History of Radio Broadcasting at Auburn University (1912-1961)” by James H. Rosene, from the Alabama Historical Radio Society website
Information on this station from the WAPI era in Birmingham, from the Alabama Historical Radio Society website
[Studio] Street View imagery of the Cumulus Birmingham studio facilities.
Owned by Cumulus
// WZRR Birmingham
Although it's generally understood that this station began in Auburn, it actually had roots dating to 1921, when Alabama Power put on the station to communicate with its own far-flung operations.  WSY-AM relayed weather information and announcements and eventually picked up a following amongst local radio listeners.  After the radio operation's popularity grew substantially, Alabama Power decided it didn't want to be in the radio business anymore, and donated the equipment to the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn.

The donated radio equipment was already outdated and useless, so the university bought a new 1,000 watt transmitter and studio equipment, putting on WMAV (We Make A Voice) on 1200 kHz in 1922.  The station moved to different places on the dial on a regular basis; by 1927 it was on 850 kHz, still with 1 kW.  Later that same year it moved to 930 kHz, then 940 kHz.  At the start of 1928, the moved to 880 kHz and was known as WAPI (for Alabama Polytechnic Institute).  On 880 kHz it shared time with WJAX in Jacksonville.  Later that year it moved to 1140 kHz, where it was sharing time with KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

The station was moved from Auburn to Birmingham in the winter of 1929, coming on the air there with 5 kW but still forced to share time with Tulsa's bigger station.  The transmitter site is the same as today's, atop Sandusky Mountain northwest of downtown Birmingham while the studios were downtown at 2029 1st Avenue North. 

Due to the constraints of sharing time with another station, the Institute sought to relocate to 1020 kHz and use 50 kW during the day, but that application was rejected by the Federal Radio Commission.  In the spring of 1938, WAPI became the first station in Alabama to employ a directional antenna pattern, being granted a Special Experimental Authorization to try one out.  This allowed the station to keep running its authorized 5 kW after dark, with a null towards Tulsa to protect the aforementioned KVOO.  (The first station in the nation, contrary to a previous write-up here, was actually WSUN in Tampa, dating back to 1932.)

The year 1941 saw some big changes on the radio dial.  The Institute transferred the license to Voice of Alabama, Incorporated in January 1941.  At the same time, the FCC began enacting changes due to the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), which saw over 800 radio stations change frequencies in order to reduce band congestion and interference issues.  WAPI was able to vacate 1140 kHz and escape its shared-time status, moving to 1070 kHz.  That new frequency signed on in early 1943.  This station spawned an FM companion (WAFM, 99.5 MHz, a superpower with a permit to broadcast with a whopping 540 kW) in 1947.  They spawned a TV station, WAFM-TV (channel 13), in 1949.

The station began broadcasting with 10 kW during the day in the summer of 1952.  They installed an RCA 10G transmitter for the purpose.  Later that same year the company's name changed from Voice of Alabama, Inc. to The Television Corporation.  In November 1952 the station received a permit to increase daytime power to 50 kW, while employing a directional antenna during both the day and night (with different patterns for each time).  The Birmingham News acquired the station and its sister FM and TV stations, in April 1953.  They changed the name of the company to Alabama Broadcasting System, Inc. in 1955; that same year they also moved the studios to "Radio Park" atop Red Mountain. Interestingly, the parent company of The Birmingham News was later Advanced Publications, Inc., whose name fit the existing call letters nicely. 

The 50 kW permit was finally put on the air in the fall of 1958, using two transmitters to achieve the higher power.

Newhouse Broadcasting Corporation acquired the stations in 1960.  The station dropped the directional daytime pattern in 1966. 

The studios (along WAPI-FM) moved to new digs at 2146 Highland Avenue South in the summer of 1980.  By 1981 the station was listed as having an Adult Contemporary music format.  In 1983, Bernie Dittman bought the station (a name well known to fans of Top 40 in Mobile) for $4 million.  He flipped the format to a Hit Parade (Standards/Big Band/Nostalgia) format after WMJJ debuted with adult contemporary on FM. 

Dick Broadcasting bought the station and its FM sister for $6.85 million in 1994.  They briefly tried an All-News format, but quickly morphed that into standard News/Talk programming, heavy on news and traffic.  In the mid-2000's, the station was listed as broadcasting in HD digital, although it's unclear how long it was on, if at all, and by September 2009 it was verified to be analog-only. 
In February 2010, WAPI picked up an FM simulcast partner in the former Live 100.5.  As the year progressed, the AM and FM took separate talk radio paths, with the AM keeping all the syndicated programming and the FM going for a more local approach.  That lasted until August of 2013, when a major sports shake-up in Birmingham saw WAPI-FM switching to ESPN as "Jox 2" and all the FM's remaining local hosts coming back to the this station.  Fast forward three years to May 2016 and the station is once again paired with an FM companion — this time 99.5 WZRR, after it failed at CHR and country music formats.