AM Technical Profile: WTBF


Frequency:
970
Format:
Sports
Transmitter Location:
[map] Northeast of Troy along and south of US-29, just off Radio Station Road.
Power (ERP):
Day: 5 kW
Night: 45 watts
Antenna:
Day & night: 1 tower, omnidirectional
Other Information:
0.5 mV/m Daytime Groundwave Service Contour from the FCC's Public Files
[FCC]
[FCCData.org]
[Radio-Locator]
[Wikipedia]
[Facebook]
[Studio] Street View imagery of the WTBF and WTBF-FM studios on Highway 29 in downtown Troy.
// W242DA Troy, AL
History:
Came on the air February 25, 1947. A classic example of a small town station, they played all kinds of music during the day, from MOR to country, even with an occasional talk program. At night, the programming targeted teens and college student. By 1970 the tempo was more Top 40 feeling with MOR music. From 1973 to 1978, the station played country during the day. From 1978 to 1985 it was all AC during the day. From 1985 to 1988 they went back to a hodepodge of music. All during these periods, WTBF was still Top 40 at night, and some during the weekends. At night the program was called "Night Flight". In 1988 The late night AC stopped and WTBF went country all the way. In October 1994, WTBF made an unusual move and started "Night Visions", a modern rock program airing at 8pm on weeknights. That became a revival of "Night Flight" by 1996; it lasted until 2003. There was a night of R&B and Blues, 70's music, 80's music, classic rock and even contemporary Christian. This interesting arangement continued off and on between 1998 and 2000 before ending altogether. In later years WTBF simulcasts the FM station during some dayparts, and broke away for Rush Limbaugh, Ken Hamblin and sports talk shows weekdays, and for sports and syndicated nostalgia shows on weekends. According to a longtime station employee, in 2006 the station is all talk during the day, and with a whopping 44 watts at night, music is played while college students are being trained.  On 13 January 2015, the station dropped its talk & personality format for CBS Sports radio.
 
Here are some more great historical tidbits provided by that longtime station employee:
 
"...WTBF signed on at 12 noon on February 25, 1947 with the roll of the timpani leading into "The Star Spangled Banner", played by the Troy High School Band.  That drum roll was played by the future Mrs. Ann Gilchrist (wife of owner Joe Gilchrist). The original calls were to be WTBC, for Troy Broadcasting Corporation, but those letters were already taken, so they settled on WTBF.
 
For the first few years, WTBF was at 1490 on the dial, then moved down to 970 during the 1950s.  Bob "Pappy" Tolbert, Jess Jordan, and Joe Gilchrist did wild morning shows before the genre was invented.  Joe interviewed pigs who lived at the transmitter site; Pappy gave away junk records with crazy trivia questions.  Birthdays, anniversaries, giveaways, obituaries, weather, local news (bake sales, gospel sings, barbecues, yard sales, etc.) are part of the Morning Show to this very day.
 
On July 16, 1969, Joe Gilchrist did a live remote of the Apollo 11 launch from Cape Canaveral.  There were three other media outlets there -- NBC, CBS, and ABC.  And...WTBF.
 
The original tower was over 300 feet tall and was located directly behind the station.
 
The AM still uses its original audio processor, which has only been disconnected one time -- when we changed locations.
 
...a little more background on the 44-watt transmitter: we had three towers.  Two of them were too rusty for engineers to climb and repair after being struck by lightning a year or so ago.  So, the one we have is nondirectional -- 5000 watts by day with a signal that goes everywhere, and the 44 watts at night, where you'll need an aluminum hat inside the studio to hear the audition channel on the AM board.
 
Joe Gilchrist is the original engineer, and still owns the station, along with Asa Dudley and Jim Roling.  Jim Roling worked there as a teenager in the 1950s and 1960s, left for South Carolina, then returned in 1980 and bought out one of the original owners.  Jim has done "The Morning Show" since 1980, every day, and is an icon in Pike County.  He comes off as Edward R. Murrow compared to the just-off-the-turnip-truck people on the other radio and TV stations in that area.
 
"Doc" Kirby (so named  for his trumpet playing abilities) has been the Program Director since 1974, with one break from 1985-86 when he was a band director at a local school and was replaced by Joey Meredith.  Since 1986, Doc has developed a weekly program called "On The Bookshelf," which is syndicated on the Alabama Radio Network.  Doc also became a Methodist minister.
 
Other long-term employees include Ralph Black, who worked there from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s, when he started the Troy State Sports Network.  He was the voice you heard on every Troy broadcast game.  Ralph was bought out by the college in 2002, and they unceremoniously dumped him from his own creation and replaced him with Barry McKnight, who hosts a sports call-in show on WMSP in Montgomery.  Ralph came back to WTBF in 2002, and hosts "Ridin' Home with Ralph" -- or, the afternoon drive.
 
You got the names right on your webpage about what each night was dedicated to; it was a wonderful training ground for young DJs like myself.  Doc Kirby made it all happen and was a big supporter of new air talent.
 
Many of those people have gone on to greener pastures -- Tonya Terry (WSFA-TV), Michael Buchanan (the Auburn Network), Chris Ingram (Washington, DC radio), Russell Wells (program director at WSVH in Savannah, GA), and so on.
 
Other popular programs include "Crosby's Country Classics," which was hosted by local personality Ray Crosby from 1998-2006.  After a bitter dispute with management over lack of pay, he was replaced by Jason Ramsey in January.
 
Also, Doc Kirby, who had the 8-11 shift in the mornings for over 30 years (except 1985- 86), was bumped off the air in January to make way for a new, expanded version of Jim Roling's Morning Show.  So, the only voices you'll hear doing live work on the FM are Jim and his sidekick Professor Lee Daniel, Ralph Black in the afternoons, and Jason Ramsey on Saturday mornings.  The rest is ABC automation running on a Digilink computer.  However, we are switching to the Scott system very soon, which will replace the outdated carts, records and reels we have used for -- forever it seems.
 
The new engineer is Wade Giddens, who spends three days a week at WTBF and four days a week at WAAO in Andalusia.  Joe Gilchrist retired after 59 years on the job, but still owns the station.
 
WTBF was located on the Troy University campus by the lagoon, from 1947-1997.  On June 18, 1997, Joe Gilchrist flipped the switch at the transmitter site...Larry Wells was operating with one CD player at what we called "Skylab", the old studios, and Jim Roling and Doc Kirby were waiting at the brand new studios at 67 West Court Square.  At 3:00 p.m., Larry faded the music, Joe flipped the switch, and Jim and Doc signed on from the new location.
I miss the schizophrenic format we had...the college students loved it.  I fell in love with it, too.   Unfortunately, the bottom line comes first and hours (and jocks) had to fall by the wayside.
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AM 970 maintains its initial approach -- lots of community news and views, talk shows, MOR music, gospel music on weekends, and a training ground for college students who want to be disc jockeys.  FM 94.7, licensed to Brundidge, airs about 8 hours per day of live local programming, but the rest is devoted solely to Unforgettable Favorites.
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Station revenues have gone up every year the past four years, since WTBF began carrying more sports and went to the beautiful music format during the day.  The community really supports the station and likes the "mom and pop" aspect of it -- no Clear Channel or Cumulus buyout is very likely in the future, and that's just fine by us."
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The building that housed WTBF radio from 1947-1997 was bulldozed the last week of March 2008 by Troy University, to make way for a new parking lot.  I guess the old Joni Mitchell record said it best .. "don't know what you've got 'til it's gone".

The station acquired a construction permit for a new FM translator companion station on 96.3 MHz in mid-April 2018.  It signed on in late August 2018.