March 11-18, 2005

An Icy Slide 'Round Central Indiana (Part II)

Regular readers of this column know by now that we have this thing about Indiana. It's not that we set out to become fascinated with the broadcast scene in the Hoosier State, it's just that being married to an ex-Hoosier means spending time in Indiana. A lot of time in Indiana, in fact. And once you've seen the sites in Indianapolis and Evansville and South Bend and Valparaiso and Richmond and Muncie and, yes, Fort Wayne (over and over and over again), what do you do then?

If you're us, you gather a couple of equally crazed friends and you plot out a 48-hour itinerary that includes stops in Peru, Wabash, Marion, Kokomo, Lafayette, West Lafayette (two very distinct communities), Logansport and Rochester. And if the January weather turns nasty? As long as the guy who drove all the way from Ohio doesn't mind driving, you pile into the car and set out anyway. (Attention, Indiana highway departments: Salt. Plows. Look into it...)

When we left off in our first installment of the trip, we had spent the night in Peru ("Circus City") and visited the small stations in Peru and Wabash before heading south to the larger town of Marion, where WBAT (1400) and WCJC (99.3 Van Buren) had recently moved in with longtime competitors WGOM (860) and WMRI (106.9). And as we were getting ready to leave the joint studio facility and make our way west to Kokomo, one of the engineers offered to show us the old WBAT/WCJC digs on our way out of town.

We were delighted to accept, of course, and we're glad we did. The sign alone (mounted, interestingly enough, somewhat out of public view above the employee entrance on the side of the building) was worth the trip out to the west side of town, and it was interesting to see what had been left behind when the stations moved out the year before (lots of carts, for one thing, including an entire carousel automation system out in the garage.)

This is also still the transmitter site for WBAT, and the old Gates was still chugging along in the back room, running off a small generator in the garage, since this part of Marion was also without power on this icy January day.

After thanking our new friends at WBAT, we pointed the car west, en route to Kokomo. But before we got there, there was one more stop to make to the south, just beyond the little hamlet of Windfall, Indiana. That's where we checked out the tower of WTTK, Kokomo's very own TV station on channel 29 - not that anyone in Kokomo would recognize this as a local station, and with good reason: it's a satellite of WTTV, Channel 4 way down in Bloomington, and it's here to fill in the "WB4" signal on the north side of the Indianapolis TV market.

(Marion's "hometown" TV station is similarly part of the Indianapolis market; WNDY-TV, channel 23, sits another 10 miles or so down this same road, Indiana 213, and it's the UPN affiliate for Indianapolis. Just after our trip - which didn't include a stop at WNDY - the station would be sold to LIN Television, which owns the CBS affiliates in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis and Lafayette, the last of which we'll see in our next installment.)

Instead of heading south to see another nondescript UHF tower, we head north on 213 and west again on Indiana 26, through some of the heaviest ice we'll see on this trip, until we arrive on the south side of Kokomo. No Beach Boys sunshine weather here today - it's still bitterly cold as we make our way down the flooded-and-frozen driveway that leads to the Mid-America Kokomo stations, WIOU (1350), WZWZ (92.5) and WMYK (98.5 Peru).

We're greeted as we walk in by a nice set of calls in the carpet in front of the reception desk - "WZWZ" on one side, "WIOU" on the other, in what would turn out to be a theme of our Kokomo radio visits.

Down the hall, we pass the sales offices and head down the corridor to see the studios. There's a live jock spinning the hot AC at "Z-92" (and back behind his studio, a low-ceilinged bomb shelter that's a relic of the station's early days out here - WIOU signed on in 1948, followed by what was then WKMO on 93.5 in 1964.) Across the hall, WIOU has a nice-sized newsroom with an actual live afternoon newsperson working there, and beyond that there's an actual live afternoon talk show taking place on AM 1350.

The WIOU transmitter and an auxiliary for WZWZ sit near the 1350 studio (Z-92 now transmits from a new tower on the west side of town, though it's suffering from icing problems on this day that have it running at very low power), and at the north end of the building there's a brand-new studio that's just been built for WMYK, "Classic Hits 98.5," which moved down here from its little closet of a studio in Peru a few months earlier. (And in keeping with the Kokomo floor-covering ethos, there's a nice "98.5" logo installed in the carpet right inside the door of the WMYK studio...)

From here, we head north into Kokomo itself for a visit to the other guys in town, Citadel's big-signal (a full class B) WWKI, which blankets central Indiana with country as "100.5KI" (We'd already stopped by its tower southeast of Kokomo on the way from WTTK to WIOU.)

Walk into the lobby, and there are the call letters in the carpet (it was WWKI that did it first, apparently), as well as a nice window into the studio, where afternoon guy Kevin Burris is on the air.

There's live afternoon news here, too - being so far from any TV news operations means radio's an important daily news medium in Kokomo, and even the FM station takes it very seriously.

There's also a big garage area out back that makes a nice warm storage space for KI's remote vehicles, as well as a sort of smoking lounge for the staff. Out back, there's even an auxiliary FM transmitter that feeds an antenna on the short tower mounted above the building, just in case. It's rare to see such a well-equipped operation in a market this size!

And after sliding our way back across the treacherous parking lot and catching a glimpse of the WZWZ tower over on Dixon Road (a more difficult task than we'd expected, because flooding has washed out one of the underpasses leading there from downtown), we're again pointed west on Indiana 26, heading for our overnight destination of Lafayette.

Before we get there, there are still two more stops, and the first is near the intersection of 26 and Indiana 29 at Middlefork. Here we see the 12-bay antenna of WSHW (99.7 Frankfort), a class B signal ("Shine 99.7") that serves Frankfort, Lafayette and Kokomo from its location sort of in the middle of nowhere. (We also tune in to Frankfort's WILO 1570, which is on the air with lots of emergency information for an area that's about as badly hit by ice as any that we'll see on this trip, but we don't make the additional trek down to Frankfort to see the AM tower.)

And another 15 minutes down the road brings us to the edge of the Lafayette market, where we'll continue next week with WLFI-TV and much, much more. Join us then - and go back and check out installment one, which we've now updated (by popular request) with a larger version of the WMRI "Five Minute FM Quiz" from the late forties!

Thanks to Mike Ward for driving, to Blaine Thompson of Indiana RadioWatch for arranging tours, and to Dave Keister and the nice folks of Mid-America Radio (WARU, WJOT and WMRI/WCJC/WBAT/WGOM) for their hospitality.

It's here - the 2005 Tower Site Calendar is now shipping! Click here for ordering information!