Entercom radio tower property in Westwood draws complaints from neighbors

The Entercom building in Westwood with its two radio towers is surrounded residential neighborhood.
The Entercom building in Westwood with its two radio towers is surrounded residential neighborhood.

Long before Westwood was incorporated as a city, two broadcasting towers made their appearance in what is now a completely residential neighborhood at 50th and Belinder. Over the last several years, residents in the neighborhood have lobbied for improvements at the property.

A renewal of the special use permit (SUP) for the towers may soon result in some of those changes being made. The two towers, one 547-feet tall and one 272-foot tower are owned by Entercom Communications and sit on about eight acres of land in the single-family neighborhood. Westwood View Elementary School is a short distance to the southeast.

Two AM radio stations, KMBZ and KUDL, broadcast from the site. The property also has a 15,000 square foot broadcasting studio and office building which has been mostly vacant since 2004 when Entercom moved most of its staff to Mission.

A November public hearing on the SUP that is up for renewal resulted in a number of comments from neighbors near the property who complained about Entercom’s maintenance of the property and the condition of the fence that surrounds most of the acreage. City staff said the high chain link fence topped with barbed wire may date back 60 to 70 years. The towers and first broadcasting building were constructed in the 1930s. (A history of the property, including toppling of the towers by wind follows at the end of the article.)

A plan commission sub-committee toured the property with Entercom representatives and met with neighbors before suggesting several stipulations for renewal of the permit. Among those is that the perimeter fence be removed except sections that have adjoining residential properties and that if Entercom wants to install new fencing, it complies with current Westwood ordinances.

The sub-committee report said the current fence makes the property look blighted. “The feeling that we’ve got from residents over time is that the current fence diminishes adjoining property,” Commissioner Cami Savage said at Monday’s hearing.

Entercom vice president Dave Alpert told the commission that his company “would have to take issue” if it could not have a perimeter fence because of liability. He said the company could “not allow people to play under the (guy) wires.”

The commission forwarded the SUP to the city council with multiple stipulations including the fencing provision, that the company demonstrate a maintenance plan and that lighting be installed to give the appearance of occupancy.

The history of the property as contained in the city staff report to the planning commission:

History of KMBZ in Westwood
KMBZ, formerly KMBC, traces its ancestry to amateur station 9AXJ, started by Arthur B. Church in 1921. On May 12, 1932, a Federal Radio Commission hearing examiner recommended approval of an application to move the then KMBC transmitter facility from Independence, Missouri, to a site in the northeastern corner of Johnson County, Kansas. KMBC moved to the site at the corner of 50th and Belinder Road in the fall of 1933, and officially inaugurated programming from the site on November 25, 1933.

High winds have toppled towers twice at the 50th Street and Belinder Road site. At 5:40 pm on June 6, 1938, a 55-mile-per-hour gust of wind took down a single 256-foot tower. Then on August 25, 1941, a 73-mile-per-hour wind caused both towers in KMBC’s directional array to crumple to the ground. The taller 544-foot tower, erected the year before, crashed into a nearby house on Booth Street with three people inside. No one was injured.

The City of Westwood was incorporated in 1949.

KMBC-AM/TV was sold to Metromedia Broadcasting Co. on August 29, 1961. Metromedia separated KMBC-AM/FM from KMBC-TV by the sale of the radio stations to Bonneville Broadcasting on May 12, 1967. Bonneville chose the call letters KMBZ for the AM station and KMBR for the FM station. Under FCC rules at the time, either the radio stations or the TV station would have to change call letters because of the ownership split. On January 6, 1997, Bonneville announced plans to trade KMBZ and its other Kansas City stations, along with its Seattle stations, to Entercom (Entertainment Communications) of Philadelphia in exchange for KLDE(FM) Houston and $5 million cash. Entercom assumed control of the Kansas City Bonneville stations on March 1, 1997.

A teenager trespassing on the property was killed after a fall from one of the towers at the transmitter site on May 17, 2008.