By SCOTT FYBUSH
We've always had a soft spot for Indianapolis: it's a nice mix between big-city amenities and the sort of relaxed, Midwesternish lifestyle that's kept us planted in Rochester for probably longer than we should have stayed put here. And being just under two hours from our alternate home base in Fort Wayne, we've had plenty of opportunities to get away to the "big city" (often with Blaine Thompson of Indiana Radio Watch) and see many of its fine broadcast facilities. And in the summer of 2010, we had the pleasure of introducing our good friend Mike Fitzpatrick of NECRAT.us to the Circle City - including a visit to one of his own sister stations, CBS affiliates WISH-TV (Channel 8).
Since 1965, WISH has anchored the north end of "Television Row" at its present address of 1950 North Meridian Street, in a building designed to resemble New York's Lincoln Center - but it's done some major expansion over the past decade or so. The exterior photo above, taken in 2000, shows the original 1965 building, which has since been effectively doubled by expanding into another adjoining building just to the south (on the left side of this photo.)
The expansion provided room for additional office space on the first floor, and on the second floor it created room for one of the more sophisticated broadcast facilities in this part of the world: a hub that provides master control for a whole bunch of LIN Broadcasting sister stations all over the midwest. If you're watching TV in Terre Haute, Dayton, Grand Rapids, Lafayette or Fort Wayne - or here in Indy, where LIN also owns MyNetwork affiliate WNDY-TV (Channel 23) - the odds are pretty good that the signal is coming through this room first; doing it this way means LIN can ingest syndicated shows like Wheel of Fortune or Dr. Phil just once, instead of multiple times at multiple locations, and it makes it easier to ingest ads for regional advertisers, too.
At this hub, there are three "pods," each one controlling one or two markets, and each one manned by an operator who's always in touch with the local studios, where there's still a local control room producing newscasts and other local shows. (We were in the hub during the early-evening news, and it was fun to watch the return feed from each of the markets, especially since we'd been at another of the stations, WDTN in Dayton, just a day earlier!)
Back in the older half of the building, we admire the expanded first-floor newsroom, designed to the exacting specifications of former news director Lee Giles, who reigned over the city's top-rated newscasts from 1968 until 2004...and we get a peek at the news, underway in the adjoining studio. (The control room, shown at the top of the page, is just down the hall.)
Our next stop finds us up in the northwest corner of Indianapolis, up at the tower farm that dots the landscape around West 79th Street.
This isn't where WISH-TV started - its initial TV broadcasts came from out on the east side of town, at what was then the site of sister AM station WISH (1310), and Channel 8 stayed out there for most of its analog life even as the rest of the market's TV center of gravity landed across town around 79th Street.
It wasn't until 1994 that WISH finally built a thousand-footer of its own, tucked in off Walnut Drive in an area that's also home to several of Indy's UHF transmitters, including Fox outlet WXIN (Channel 59) and LeSea's WHMB (Channel 40).
WISH was an early VHF DTV outlet, adding a digital signal on channel 9 to its analog channel 8 signal - and eventually converting the old analog 8 transmitter to digital operation on 9.
(The former interim digital 9 transmitter, just out of frame to the left in the shot above, remains in place, now serving WISH's low-power sister station WIIH. WIIH is an interesting operation: it started out as an analog LPTV on 17, at one point broadcasting the "Local Weather Service" radar screen and before that, operating in Spanish as a Univision affiliate. WIIH went digital on RF 8, so the old interim 9 transmitter is now on 8, when it's on at all. And channel 17? It became home to a "digital replacement translator" for WISH, providing service to viewers in town who are using indoor UHF-only antennas.)
And that brings us back downtown to our final stop on this very quick swing through Indianapolis. After a night at an unusual hotel partially built out of railroad cars, we couldn't leave town in the morning without taking Mike to the most prominent radio studio facility in the market.
In 1998, Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications built a magnificent headquarters building right on Monument Circle, the geographic center of downtown Indianapolis.
At the time, Emmis' lineup in the market included two AMs - news-talk WIBC (1070) and gospel WTLC (1310) - and three FMs, classic hits WNAP (93.1), AC WENS (97.1) and urban WTLC-FM (105.7), as well as Indianapolis magazine.
Today, not one of those stations remains the same: WIBC moved its news-talk format to 93.1 a few years back (in the interim, 93.1 had been doing top-40 as "Radio Now" WNOU), 97.1 flipped to country as WLHK, "Hank FM," and 105.7 flipped to AC as WYXB, "B105.7." The AM on 1070 went to sports as WFNI, "The Fan," and 1310 went away as part of a deal that sent that signal, along with the intellectual property of WTLC-FM, to Radio One, which would later acquire the intellectual property of WNOU as well.
Emmis has had its share of financial struggles in recent years, but its headquarters remains a showplace, complete with a sidewalk studio on the first level (shared by all the stations here) and two floors of studios upstairs. There's even a remarkably comprehensive gym facility in the basement...and this being Indianapolis, it even includes a basketball court!
We'll come back to Indianapolis in a while to show you our 2011 visit, including the Radio One facility where WNOU and WTLC ended up - but first, it's time to wrap up our "Travels with Mike," which means that next week we'll show you that other 50 kilowatt AM signal in Indiana...
Thanks to WISH-TV's Tom Weber and Emmis' Jake Robinson for the tours!
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Next week: WOWO, 2010