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December 11-18, 2003

WIND 560, Chicago

Two summers ago, our "Big Trip" halfway across the country included, as one of the early stops, a day and a half exploring the towers of Chicago. The very first Chicago stop, in fact, came before we'd even crossed the Indiana/Illinois line, as we pulled up within sight of the four towers of WIND (560 Chicago), just south of I-80/I-94 five miles east of the state line in Griffith, Indiana. We snapped a photo from the best vantage point we could find and headed on to more Chicago excitement.

Some time later, we received a very nice e-mail from Paul Easter, the chief engineer of WIND, inviting us to come back and take a closer look at his facility. The opportunity finally came around in early November, when we drove up from Fort Wayne to meet up with several other tower aficionados for a couple of days of intense Chicago radio fun.

We arrived at an interesting moment in WIND's history - even as we stood around and gawked, WIND was getting a new transmitter, the Harris DAX seen above. But we're already ahead of ourselves, aren't we? First, a bit of history:

The "IND" in the callsign of WIND doesn't stand for "WINDy City," but rather for "INDiana," which is only fitting for a station that was licensed to Gary in its early years. The descendant of 1920s stations WIBO and WPCC, which consolidated into WJKS, the station became WIND in 1934 and was soon targeting Chicago, with studios at 201 N. Wells and 5,000 watts of day power (1,000 at night) from a site not far from the present location.

By 1950, it was even licensed to Chicago, and a few years later the Johnson-Kennedy Radio Corp. (which had owned it as far back as the WJKS days, hence those calls) sold WIND to Westinghouse, whose last venture in Chicago radio had ended in 1934 with the move of KYW to Philadelphia. Westinghouse ran WIND as a top-40 outlet for a few years, competing with the big guns of WLS and WCFL, but eventually flipped it, like most of the rest of its AM stations, to all-news.

And then, in 1985, Westinghouse spun off WIND to begin a new phase of its history as an important voice of Chicago's Hispanic community under the ownership of Mac Tichenor, whose stations would eventually become Hispanic Broadcasting Corporation and then, a few months ago, Univision Radio. (Westinghouse would soon re-enter Chicago radio for one more spin, owning WMAQ 670.)

WIND did Spanish-language news and talk as "La Tremenda" from 1985 until just a few weeks before our visit, when "La Tremenda" moved up the dial to WRTO (1200) and 560 became Spanish AC "Radio Exitos."

Which brings us back to the present day and the WIND site, which turns out to be accessed from a driveway on the other side of the railroad tracks from our 2001 visit. This site, with its four 490-foot guyed towers, each with a capacitance hat, was built in 1975 after the old site was taken by eminent domain. On your left as you enter the building is an enormous phasor cabinet, one side of which handles the day pattern and the other side the night pattern (the day pattern is a figure-eight pointing northwest to Chicago and southeast to Gary; the night pattern, also 5000 watts, points mostly into Chicago.)

Straight ahead is the original transmitter space, now occupied by the brand-new Harris and an older Rockwell Collins, complete with a Group W maintenance sticker inside the door.

Those of us (your editor included) who worked for the Big Red W completely understand the note typed on the Collins maintenance label above the Group W sticker:

"If you are going to have a long call, give your number and have Collins call you back on their WATS line service." The company may have been cheap as could be with the little expenses, but they never shied from spending money on the big stuff. And in those days, a daytime call from Chicago to Dallas probably cost 35 or 40 cents a minute, back when that was real money...

On the right side of the room sits the Broadcast Electronics 5kW solid-state transmitter that was the main transmitter until the Harris arrived. It still amazes me that a 5kW AM transmitter can fit in a single rack like that; imagine how amazed an engineer from the thirties or forties might have been to see this unit!

Next to the BE is the STL/monitoring/processing rack. In case of emergency, WIND could go on the air from right here at the transmitter site, through a small mixer and CD players on the desk in the middle of the room. The engineering shop is behind these racks in the back of the building. On the other side of the building, behind the phasor, a large garage is mostly used for storage.

This is an exceptionally well-monitored site - there are several TV cameras aimed at the rack, at the outside door and even at the grounds around the towers, remotely-steerable via an Internet connection so Paul can watch what's happening at the site from the comfort of his home.

From WIND (and after a stop for lunch), our traveling band of radio folk crosses into Illinois, makes a quick stop at the nine towers of WRTO (1200), and then it's on to the second-highest building in the Windy City...but we'll get there next week!

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